Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Factotum

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is factotum. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

factotum is a person who has many diverse activities or responsibilities, and especially one whose work involves a wide variety of tasks.

// After graduating from college, Natalia worked for several years as an office factotum.

FACTOTUM in Context

“Francesca, one of her former students, works tirelessly as Lydia’s factotumamanuensis, and personal assistant, in the expectation of becoming her assistant conductor in Berlin.” — Richard Brody, The New Yorker, 12 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

“Do everything!” That’s a tall order, but it is exactly what a factotum is expected to do. It’s also a literal translation of the Latin phrase fac tōtum: the phrase is usually glossed as “do all!” with the punctuation expressing the force behind the command. (Fac is an imperative form of facere, “to make, do,” and tōtum means “the whole, entirety.”) When it first appeared in English in the mid-16th century, factotum was frequently paired with other words in such phrases as dominus/domine factotum (“lord/lady” factotum), magister factotum (“master” factotum), and Johannes factotum (“John” factotum), all approximate synonyms of the slightly younger term jack-of-all-trades. While in the past factotum could also be synonymous with meddler and busybody, the word today refers to a handy, versatile sort anyone in need of an assistant might hope for.

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