Mony a mickle maks a muckle

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

  1. So like Yorkshire! In Yorkshire ‘mickle’ means ‘a lot’, whilst ‘mony’ means ‘many’ and ‘macks’ means ‘makes’

  2. 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 ( which gave Greek “mega” and Latin “magnus”, so it’s cognate with all their derivatives too! I love etymology.

  3. 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.

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