There’s a Scots saying Mony a mickle maks a muckle, or Many a mickle makes a muckle, which means “A lot of small amounts, put together, become a large amount”.
The word muckle certainly means large, and also big, great; much, a great deal of, a lot of; grown-up, mature, adult; of great social consequence, of high rank, great; captial (letter).
In the context of the saying you’d expect mickle to mean small. However it is actually a variant form of muckle. The original version of the saying was apparently “Mony a pickle maks a muckle” – pickle means “A grain of oats, barley, wheat; a small particle of any kind, a grain, granule, speck, pellet.” It’s possible that pickle became mickle to make the saying more alliterative.
Another source states that this phrase was first recorded in writing in 1614 as “many a little made a mickle” and the Scots version was “A wheen o’ mickles mak’s a muckle”.
I came across a Japanese equivalent of this saying today: ちりも積もれば山となる or 塵も積もれば山となる (Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru), which means something like “Piling up dust/garbage makes a mountain”, and is translated as “many a little makes a mickle”. I thought that’s wrong, mickle means a little, but now I know better, possibly.
Related sayings in English include:
– Save a penny, save a pound
– Little strokes fell great oaks
– Little and often fills the purse
– Every little helps
– Little drops of water, little grains of sand, make a mighty ocean and a pleasant land
Do you know any others in English or other languages?
Sources: Dictionary of the Scots Language / Dictionar o the Scots Leid, The Scotsman, jisho, Stake Exchange, Wordwizard
4 thoughts on “Mony a mickle maks a muckle”
So like Yorkshire! In Yorkshire ‘mickle’ means ‘a lot’, whilst ‘mony’ means ‘many’ and ‘macks’ means ‘makes’
Yep – “muckle” is cognate with Icelandic “mikill” meaning “big”, as well as with English “much”.
Also, in the process of fact-checking the above to make sure I wasn’t talking nonsense, I just discovered that it goes back to the same PIE root (https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Reconstruction:Proto-Indo-European/m%C3%A9%C7%B5h%E2%82%82s) which gave Greek “mega” and Latin “magnus”, so it’s cognate with all their derivatives too! I love etymology.
Swedish: många bäckar små blir/gör en stor å “many small streams become/make a large river”. It’s usually shortened to just många bäckar små.
The word å “river” is a cognate with French eau “water” and is pronounced pretty much the same. It’s fascinating seeing two languages going through different sound changes and still arrive at the same result.
You’ve transcribed the hiragana for ‘mo’ as ‘mi’ in your Japanese example, just FYI