Many a little makes a mickle. Savvy?

One of the unexpected pleasures of studying a foreign language is foraging up new phrases in one’s main language to squirrel away for future use. While studying this idiom in Japanese, 塵も積もれば山となる (Chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru), I found the expression:

“Many a little makes a mickle.”

I was immediately tickled pink by this phrase. It’s a bit twee, but in a charmingly fun way. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant. I looked it here and found out it means “Many small amounts accumulate to make a large amount.” Neat.

As an aside note, if I had verified my understanding of the Japanese kanji first, I could have easily figured that out on my own. Knowing kanji is like having an extensive knowledge of word roots in English, in that even if one doesn’t know a particular word, one can often get the general meaning. The more I study kanji, the more I’m actually beginning to like them. Especially the funky-looking ones like 甕 or the interesting ones like 襲う. But I digress dangerously…

In conclusion, I was wondering how many people knew this phrase. I wasn’t surprised to find it was UK-centric, but apparently it has passed out of usage largely on that side of the pond as well. What a shame! This is such a fun phrase.

Many a little makes a mickle!
Many a little makes a mickle!
Many a little makes a mickle!


Strč prst skrz krk.

I’ve heard it as “many a mickle makes a muckle.”

Yes, that is what the expression is; also one does not “get” the cut of someone’s jib, one likes or dislikes it.

Me too.

I know “mickle” from this mediaeval Christmas carol. Not sure if any standard English speaker has used it in the last couple of centuries though.

Or even many a mickle maks a muckle.

I learned it from Flanders & Swann.

ETA: it appears in Hesiod, as “Put a little upon a little, and, in time, this will grow to be much.”

Many mickle maks a muckle.

My granddad used to say it when he paid us cousins in dimes to pick up pinecones from his (giant-ass) yard so he could make (giant-ass) bonfires out of them. I knew what it meant, and always thought it was just some weird scots-irish saying.

Does anybody remember if Lewis Carroll parodied this phrase in one of his Alice books, which was later remarked upon by Martin Gardner in The Annotated Alice?

I’m sure I remember reading some mention of this in The Annotated Alice, but I can’t find anything on it now. Has someone else seen this?

Pop quiz, hotshots.

How many mickles are there in a muckle?

The answer may surprise you.

Oh, I know I know! I though as the OP it would be more fun to have somebody else post it.

So, where there’s muckles, there’s brass :wink:


[Yorkshire Accent]Nay, lad: where there’s muck there’s brass.[/YA]

Mind t’whoosh.

He would have noticed t’were he on Ilkla Moor Baht 'at

among the many sins visited on me by my Yorkshire born mother, along with stilton cheese in a christmas mince pie


I don’t recal where I first stumbled across mickle, but I recognized it when Tolkein used it in Michel Delving, a location in the Shire. Put into modern English, it means “Much Digging”, and obviously refers to a place with many Hobbit holes.

Or it could mean “Little Digging” - after all many a mickle (small amount) makes a muckle (large amount).

Confusingly, though, there seem to be two expressions. My dictionary gives two, completely opposite, meanings for the noun “mickle”:


I’ve certainly only ever come across the second version, which implies a mickle is a small amount.

Or it could mean “a great amount”, as the dictionareies I’ve consulted show.

I read this as a proverb used on a War Stamp savings card in All of a Kind Family Uptown, by Sydney Taylor, which takes place in World War I. Another proverb on the card is “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”

That must be where I read it! I knew I’d read it somewhere when I was a little kid, but I couldn’t work out where. I loved those books, though, so that could well be it.

Never heard the mickle/muckle version.