fac·​to·​tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm How to pronounce factotum (audio) \

Definition of factotum

1 : a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
2 : a general servant

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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 New Latin term factotum, which in turn traces to the Latin words facere ("to do") and totum ("everything"). In the 16th century, factotum was used in English much like a surname, paired with first names to create personalities such as "Johannes Factotum" (literally "John Do-everything"). Back then, it wasn't necessarily desirable to be called a factotum; the term was a synonym of "meddler" or "busybody." Now the word is more often used for a handy, versatile individual responsible for many different tasks.

Examples of factotum in a Sentence

He was the office factotum.
Recent Examples on the Web The movie is centered on a declining Western-style actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, factotum, and friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Richard Brody, The New Yorker, "Review: Quentin Tarantino’s Obscenely Regressive Vision of the Sixties in “Once Upon a Time . . . in Hollywood”," 27 July 2019 Nonconforming bowel movements were reported in a tremulous voice so that menus had to be changed and Nicholas, the cook and general factotum, sent to the chemist for milk of magnesia. Lynn Freed, Harper's magazine, "We Were So Happy Then," 10 Mar. 2019 The pecking order was the chief of staff, then the secretary, then the longtime driver-factotum—and finally me. Karl Rove, WSJ, "George Bush’s Leadership by Example," 4 Dec. 2018 That was Allen Toussaint, the elegant, nattily attired musical factotum who crafted some of the most memorable tunes to spring from New Orleans, first as a composer and writer, and later as a performer in his own right. Mike Scott, NOLA.com, "Yes, he did, did: The man who became New Orleans' 'one-man Motown'," 4 May 2018 Europeans got used to dealing with back-seat drivers when Vladimir Putin ran Russia as prime minister in 2008-12, while his factotum, Dmitry Medvedev, kept the presidential throne warm. The Economist, "CharlemagnePower does not always lie where you might expect in Europe," 1 Mar. 2018 Which is why Claude Taylor, a former minor factotum in the Clinton administration, is seeking to pepper the districts of vulnerable Republican lawmakers with anti-incumbent billboard messages. OregonLive.com, "Cheeky anti-GOP messaging effort targets Greg Walden: 'Selling out Oregon one vote at a time'," 17 Jan. 2018 PiS, via its factotums in the state media, will exploit this quandary to the hilt, presenting itself as the only party that can be trusted to preserve Polish sovereignty. The Economist, "The European Commission takes a gamble on Poland," 20 Dec. 2017 Of course, there was no need for Rahm to fear Claypool, who's been a loyal factotum for years. Ben Joravsky, Chicago Reader, "The new public face of Rahm Emanuel’s school closing policies," 13 Dec. 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'factotum.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of factotum

1562, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for factotum

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").

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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 6 Aug. 2020.

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More Definitions for factotum


How to pronounce factotum (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of factotum

formal : a person whose job involves doing many different types of work

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More from Merriam-Webster on factotum

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for factotum

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with factotum

Britannica English: Translation of factotum for Arabic Speakers

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