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6 July 2009

Monday's Words (a little late)

Sorry, I nearly forgot. I've been trying to get my word count up for The July Novel Writing month. If you're busy writing your own prose, and you tend to specialise in stories with an historical flavour, you might well use the word 'factotum' when referring to a servant or common tradesman. It's still used today of course, as in "I seem to be a 'Jill of all Trades' and general factotum".

It derives from the Latin, fac totum to do or to make everything. According to Michael Quinion* "when the word first appeared, it was always paired with another to make what looked like a personal name. Dominus Factotum was a ruler with absolute powers, Magister Factotum was a master of all".

Gradually the word seems to have gone down in stature, and now when we speak of a 'general factotum, we are usually referring to someone who is obliged to perform a variety of lowly or menial tasks.

*Thanks to Michael Quinion of WORLD WIDE WORDSWorld Wide Words is copyright (c) Michael Quinion 2009. All rights reserved. The Words Web site is at http://www.worldwidewords.org