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I've been poking around the net trying to find synonyms for "renaissance man" which indicates someone that is proficient at many skills. I was thinking "jack of all trades" but that has a negative connotation that the individual is not good at any of them, but capable. Any ideas?

marked as duplicate by Edwin Ashworth, FumbleFingers, Nicole, tchrist, ScotM Apr 18 '15 at 16:34

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    Maybe I just haven't heard it in the right contexts, but I don't associate "jack of all trades" with a negative connotation. – Nicole Apr 16 '15 at 15:22
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    @Nicole The standard idiom is "Jack of all trades, master of none". – Dan Bron Apr 16 '15 at 15:24
  • Oh. Well, that explains it :) – Nicole Apr 16 '15 at 15:25
  • Eclectic? Versatile? – o0'. Apr 16 '15 at 16:45
  • What about Macgyver? – Trevor Apr 17 '15 at 1:15
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A single, and slightly formal, word which captures "Renaissance man" is "polymath".

From Vocabulary.com, for example:

A polymath is a person who knows a lot about a lot of subjects. If your friend is not only a brilliant physics student but has also published a poetry collection and won prizes at political debates, you can describe her as a polymath.

You can think of a polymath as a classic "Renaissance man." Imagine Leonardo da Vinci, for example, who was not only an amazing artist, but also an engineer, inventor, mathematician, and much more. When a person's knowledge covers many different areas, he or she is a polymath.

Again from Macmillan:

polymath: someone who has a lot of knowledge about many different subjects

Merriam-Webster:

polymath: someone who knows a lot about many different things

And the Wordnik:

Polymath is Greek for renaissance person; someone with the ability to do many remarkable things because they are experts across many disciplines.

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    I thought about it, but polymath is more about knowing rather than doing..or not? – user66974 Apr 16 '15 at 15:28
  • @Josh61 DaVinci is the classic example of a polymath; the word is most often colocated with his name. Do you think of him as a pure "thinker" or was he a "doer"? – Dan Bron Apr 16 '15 at 15:29
  • Really? I would have said Renaissance man or genius were the words most associated with Leonardo. – Mari-Lou A Apr 16 '15 at 15:39
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    @Mari-LouA Other way around. The person most associated with the word "polymath" is Leonardo. But "polymath" is not the word most associated with the person. – Dan Bron Apr 16 '15 at 15:46
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Taking a slightly different tack from "renaissance man", which focuses on broad learning and education; a high-brow appellation, there is the category of a "generally useful" individual.

This is a "gets done whatever needs to get done" sort of characteristic: the human analog to a Swiss Army knife. For that, you have a couple of options:

General factotum

MW:

  1. a person whose job involves doing many different types of work
  2. a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities

Collins

a person who does all sorts of jobs; general assistant

and the more down-to-Earth:

Guy Friday / Gal Friday:

Dictionary.com

a person who acts as a general assistant in a business office or to an executive and has a wide variety of especially secretarial and clerical duties.

and finally the political and slightly intimidating:

Body man

Wikipedia

A body man is, in U.S. political jargon, a personal assistant to a politician or political candidate. A body man accompanies the politician or candidate virtually everywhere, often arranging lodging, transportation or meals, and providing companionship comprising providing snacks, a cell phone, and any other necessary assistance.

  • That is also called spin doctor. – user66974 Apr 16 '15 at 15:49
  • @Josh61 Nah. A spin doctor is a spokesperson. A Guy Friday / General Factotum / Body Man / Valet is behind the scenes. The man behind the man, if you will (or gentleman's gentleman, if I remember my My Remains of the Day). – Dan Bron Apr 16 '15 at 15:50
  • Spin doctor: a person (such as a political aide) whose job involves trying to control the way something (such as an important event) is described to the public in order to influence what people think about it.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/spin%20doctor – user66974 Apr 16 '15 at 15:52
  • @Josh61 Precisely. That's very different from the persons and roles described in my answer. Those people are not public facing; they serve only the man himself, not the organization. – Dan Bron Apr 16 '15 at 15:55
  • Yep, not much of a renaissance in both cases I'd say! – user66974 Apr 16 '15 at 16:03
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Here's an idiom which if you're a film buff you'll recognize instantly. The homonymous play (1954) is set in 16th-century Tudor England and is based on the true life of Sir Thomas More, of whom a contemporary once said:

More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons."

The play was subsequently made into a beautiful period film in 1966.

A man for all seasons

a man who is very successful in many different types of activity

  • He's chairman of a large chemicals company as well as a successful painter - really a man for all seasons.
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"A man of many parts", or just "a man of parts".

  • A man with great ability in many different areas:
    • he was a man of parts—a painter, Egyptologist, and biographer (ODO)

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