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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A Word A Day — factotum

February 06, 2013

Word of the Day

  • factotum
  • audio pronunciation
  • \fak-TOH-tuhm\


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

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

"It also was in contrast to the burgeoning and ballooning bureaucracy of the bank, which may not have rivaled the U.N. in its quantity of factotums, but still has swelled to more than 10,000 employees." — From an article by Zachary Karabell on The Daily Beast, March 24, 2012


"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.


Spokesman-Review readers blog about news and issues in Spokane written by Dave Laird.