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Dr. Goodword
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Postby Dr. Goodword » Thu Nov 21, 2019 11:24 pm

• factotum •

Pronunciation: fæk-to-têm • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: I'll bet you thought this word had something to do with facts. Well, it doesn't. It means 1. "a jack-of-all-trades, an employee who does all kinds of work". 2. Anything which serves more than one purpose, such as a screwdriver which serves as a can-opener, a punch, as well as a screwdriver.

Notes: Factotumship is a rarely used abstract noun derived from factotum referring to the position of a factotum. It is the only family this word has. Remember, the final vowel is U; this word has nothing to do with totems.

In Play: "Jack-or-all trades" is the fundamental sense of today's Good Word: "Pat Agonia was secretary and general factotum for Duane Pipes and his plumbing company." The other use of this word refers to any multipurpose item: "Jody considers her car a factotum that serves as a school bus for the kids, a taxi for her friends, and a delivery truck for her business."

Word History: Today's Good Word comes to us from the Medieval Latin phrase, fac totum "do everything", made up of fac "do", the imperative of facere "to do" + totum "all, everything", the neuter of totus. Facere comes from the same PIE word as English do and deed, dhe-/dho- "put, set". English don "to put on" originates from the same source, as does doom, originally meaning "judgment", something set in stone. Totus "all" seems to have come from PIE teuta- "tribe", origin of the name Teuton(ic) and underlying the English borrowing total. Totus went on to become French tout, as in tout de suite and Italian tutti, as in tutti-frutti.
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George Kovac
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Re: Factotum

Postby George Kovac » Fri Nov 22, 2019 10:41 am

Sometimes I remember when I first encountered a particularly wonderful Good Word, and archive it to savor later. “Factotum” is one of those words, and I learned of it in a sweet and gentle obituary of a man who was an uncelebrated member of the Beatles entourage. A rare word, properly deployed (and remembered), can add nuance that a more common synonym lacks. See how different this sentence would have spun if the writer used “roadie” instead of “factotum”:
Yet there seemed to be not one jealous bone in Neil Aspinall’s body; which was why, for almost half a century, he was factotum, doorkeeper and man-of-all work for four friends who became, in the words of Philip Norman, their biographer, “the greatest engine for human happiness the modern world has known”. Obituary of Neil Aspinall, Economist, April 3, 2008
"The messy layers of human experience get pulled together, and sometimes ordered, by words." Colum McCann, But Always Meeting Ourselves, NYT 6/15/09

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Re: Factotum

Postby misterdoe » Wed Jan 08, 2020 6:00 pm

The first time I heard this word was in an office where I used to work. I was at least a generation younger than almost everyone else there, and one older gentleman described himself as a "supernumerary and general factotum." He really was a jack-of-all-trades. I guess he counted himself as a supernumerary because it was the business office of a school system, and his was not an official civil service position. Or something... :)

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