J is for Jack of All Trades
By: Joshua Glenn | Categories: Idleness, Read-outs

A series of 26 posts featuring excerpts from Joshua Glenn’s The Idler’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2008) and The Wage Slave’s Glossary (Biblioasis, 2011). Both books were coauthored by Mark Kingwell, who contributed entertaining philosophical-critical essays on the subjects of idling and wage slavery; and both were wittily illustrated and designed by the cartoonist Seth.


Well before Fordism, workers resistant to specialization were subjected to concerted propaganda efforts. For example: from the early 17th century until the heyday of industrialization, a jack (informal British term for “trade laborer”) capable of doing many tasks well was highly esteemed. But then, to the jaunty phrase “jack of all trades” was appended the unflattering postscript “and master of none.” Don’t believe the hype. In Terry Gilliam’s dystopian 1985 movie, Brazil, Robert De Niro plays a heroic jack of all trades in a convoluted and inefficient social order overseen by over-specialized bureaucrats: he’s a masterless man.


ALSO: Alienation | Big Rock Candy Mountains | Corporation | Dawdle | Employee of the Month | Flazy | Greybearding | Hobo | Inemuri | Knock Off Work | Lazy | Micawberish | Nobbing It | Onboarding | Pink Slip | Quitter | Robot | Stakhanovite | Time and Motion Study | Unemployment | Volupté | Wage Slavery | Xerox Subsidy | Yakuza | Zero Drag



Joshua Glenn is a cultural and brand semiotician, and co-principal of the agency SEMIOVOX LLC. He is editor and publisher of HILOBROW and the Radium Age sci-fi paperback imprint HILOBOOKS. He is author of (with Mark Kingwell and the cartoonist Seth) THE IDLER'S GLOSSARY (2008) and THE WAGE SLAVE'S GLOSSARY (2011), and editor of the object-oriented story collections TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY (2007) and (with Rob Walker) SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS (2012). With Elizabeth Foy Larsen and Tony Leone, Josh produced the popular family activities guides UNBORED (2012), UNBORED GAMES (2014), and UNBORED ADVENTURE (2015), not to mention two UNBORED activity kits from MindWare. In the ’00s, Josh was an editor and columnist for the BOSTON GLOBE's IDEAS section; in the ’90s, he published the high-lowbrow zine/journal HERMENAUT. He was born and raised in Boston, where he lives with his wife and sons.