factotum

noun

fac·​to·​tum fak-ˈtō-təm How to pronounce factotum (audio)
1
: a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
2
: a general servant

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"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.

Examples of factotum in a Sentence

He was the office factotum.
Recent Examples on the Web Alberto, who counted with Cristina Fernández de Kirchner as his vice-president and de facto factotum of power, executed a delicate balancing act while having to negotiate with both his internal rivals and the opposition coalition, Juntos por el Cambio. Agustino Fontevecchia, Forbes, 30 Mar. 2024 The Enterprise crew are military factotums like those in Graff’s book—their sometimes rigid adherence to protocol means they can barely be trusted to talk to other humans, let alone to extraterrestrials. Dan Piepenbring, Harper's Magazine, 16 Oct. 2023 Scorsese reshaped the film’s narrative around DiCaprio’s Ernest Burkhart, who makes for an unconventional lead — a spineless factotum, alternately loving and loathsome. Vulture, 20 Oct. 2023 As one of its first moves in the partnership, Microsoft impressed the developer world by releasing Copilot, an AI factotum that automates certain elements of coding. WIRED, 13 June 2023 Alongside Ramos’ Noah, Dominique Fishback plays the other significant human character introduced here, an unappreciated but brilliant museum factotum Elena. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, 7 June 2023 Although there are establishing shots in the first episode of a full parking lot and a lot of extras gliding through the lobby, our heroes on their special floor have little contact with anyone outside of Harmony’s quietly, creepily enthusiastic factotum, Mr. Milchick (Tramell Tilman). Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times, 17 Feb. 2022 The complex is carefully maintained, right down to the large outdoor pool into which housekeeper/chef/doggedly loyal factotum Angela (Vera Barreto) is sluicing chlorine as the film opens. Jessica Kiang, Variety, 25 Feb. 2023 That’s what the factotum is — a jack-of-all-trades. Joshua Barone, New York Times, 26 Jan. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'factotum.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

Etymology

from the Latin phrase fac tōtum "do all!", from fac (singular imperative of facere "to make, do" + tōtum "the whole, entirety," from neuter of tōtus "all, the whole of") — more at fact, total entry 1

Note: Perhaps originally short for dominus/domine factotum, magister factotum, and parallel expressions that mean approximately "jack-of-all-trades," though evidence for the isolated collocation fac totum is nearly as early. Martin Luther uses fac totum in the non-personal sense "that which does everything" in his commentary on Galatians (1535): "Est igitur fides fac totum (ut ita loquar) in operibus" ("It is faith, as I so speak, that is the do-all in works").

First Known Use

1562, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of factotum was in 1562

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Cite this Entry

“Factotum.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/factotum. Accessed 21 Apr. 2024.

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