“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”

I had not seen my informant for a couple of weeks when he told me this proverb. We were catching up, and it quickly became apparent that we had not seen each other because my informant had been working so hard for the past couple of weeks. Between his job and his schoolwork, he had not had time to socialize. I advised him that to be productive, he should also schedule some time to have fun and relax. He responded with the proverb, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”

My informant cannot remember the first time he heard this proverb, because his parents used to say it to him and his siblings often when he was a child. He says that his parents use it rhetorically, as a way to advise him to lead a balanced life. They do not say it to him frequently anymore, but he does say it often to his younger brother.

My informant appears correct in his analysis that the proverb is simply meant to teach children to live a balanced lifestyle. Whereas I, at first, thought the proverb might be used as reprimand, given the context it acts more as a gentle reminder that too much of anything is not good.

A version of this proverb was made popular by the 1980 movie The Shining. In Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel The Shining, the main character, Jack, repeatedly types the phrase “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” filling many pages with the phrase. Jack types this as he descends into his psychosis and gives into his murderous urges. The seemingly benign phrase takes on an aura of horror, as in the context of the story “plays” seems to mean Jack’s murderous and violent urges whereas “work” appears to mean acting as a normal member of society. Even with this horrific implication, the proverb retains the meaning described by my informant; one should try to live a balanced life. In the context of the film, Jack goes crazy because he has been a normal person, i.e. “worked,” for too long and his extreme murderous desires, or a desire to “play,” are the consequences of that. Likewise, my informant’s parents do not want him to live on either end of the extreme, but balance his time between work and play. The proverb provides a warning of balance in both situations.


Kubrick, Stanley, dir. 1980 The Shining. 142 min. Warner Brother’s Pictures. Hollywood.