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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?

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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.

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  • 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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