Saturday, June 21, 2014


Maybe I should read the book
& see the movie.

Last summer, I received the following note and word - a - day definition from my brother:

"Back when I was in the Corps, after Vietnam and Chicago,
I was assigned to 3rd Recruit Training Battalion at MCRD San Diego.
They set me up with a desk just inside the office complex where I
was supposed to "greet" and direct personnel to the correct clerk
for assistance. In addition to that I was given about 12 or 15
unrelated tasks such as ID cards, etc.
Now I find out after all these years that I had a real job title.
Wish I had known this word then!"

Brummbaer aka Sgt Carriker, USMC




noun: A servant or a low-level employee tasked with many things.
From Latin factotum, from facere (to do) + totus (all).
Earliest documented use: 1573.

"Now, a reporter trying to interview a business source
is confronted by a phalanx of factotums."
David Carr; The Puppetry of Quotation Approval;
The New York Times; Sept 16, 2012.


How timely for me that my brother shared factotum when he did because I was right in the middle of reading a novel -- The Elegance of the Hedghog by Muriel Barbery -- in which I encountered this unusual word not once but twice. Without his note, I would surely have had to look it up!

In one passage, Barbery says that the housekeeper of a fancy Paris apartment "found herself reigning over a laughable kindgdom whose subjects were the cleaning lady (Manuela), the part - time butler (an Englishman), and the factotum (her husband)" (49).

In another, a young man is describing his work at a "ship's chandler's." A childhood friend asks him, "What do you actually do at your job?" And he replies: "I'm sort of a factotum, stock man and messenger boy, but I'm learning as I go along, so now from time to time they give more interesting things to like repair sails or shrouds, or put together the provision inventory" (293 - 94).

Thanks to Dave, I was able to read through those passages without skipping a beat! Of course, I still had to look up "ship's chandler." But it made more sense than it would have had he not written to share the day's vocabulary word. Thanks Dave!

For more Elegance,scroll down to
Building Well, Thrilling Quotidian and Bouquet
See also
Fortnightly & Book Blog

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