Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle – Meaning & Origin

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “many a mickle makes a muckle,” you may have found yourself perfectly baffled. In this, you are not alone!

In this article, we’ll explain the meaning of this phrase and where it comes from. That way, you can effectively baffle all your pals too.  

Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle – Meaning

The phrase “many a mickle makes a muckle” comes from a misquote of the original phrase, “many a pickle makes a mickle.” In the original phrase, “pickle” meant a small quantity of something. Therefore, the phrase essentially means that a large sum is made of many smaller sums.


KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • “Many a mickle makes a muckle” means that many small quantities of something will make up a larger quantity.
  • The phrase is actually a misquote of the Scottish proverb “many a pickle makes a mickle.”
  • “Mickle” and “muckle” both refer to a large amount or quantity, but we treat them as opposites in this phrase.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “mickle” means “a large sum or amount.”

The OED also notes that the phrase “many a mickle makes a muckle” developed from a misunderstanding of the meaning of “mickle” and “muckle.”

Both “mickle” and its Scottish variant, “muckle,” mean a large quantity. However, the original speaker of this phrase clearly believed that they meant opposite things.  

Therefore, although the phrase is fairly nonsensical, it is intended to mean that many small amounts can add up to a large amount.

Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle – Origin

It appears that the phrase “many a mickle makes a muckle” comes from a misquote by none other than George Washington, who said this phrase in his Writings in 1793:

  • […] than which nothing in nature is more true ‘that many mickles make a muckle’.

This is what introduced this misquote of the original phrase to America, and this is why it persists today.

Some sources suggest that this phrase originated in Scotland as “many a pickle makes a mickle.” It was also sometimes stated as “many a pickle makes a muckle.”

However, the clearest origin of this proverb comes over a century before Washington’s misquote. Namely, from a 1614 work by William Camden called Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britaine. In this work, the phrase is “many a little makes a micl.”

In short, beginning as a Scottish proverb, the phrase we know today appears to be the result of a misunderstanding of the phrase by George Washington.

Phrases Similar to “Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle”

  • Many a pickle makes a mickle
  • Many a little makes a micl
  • Many a pickle makes a muckle
  • Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after
  • Many mickles make a muckle
  • Every mickle makes a muckle

Incorrect Ways to Use “Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle”

Although the phrase “many a mickle makes a muckle” is itself a misquote of the original phrase, we now accept this version as meaning “many small amounts make a big amount.”

Therefore, for the purposes of this phrase, “mickle” means a small amount. “Muckle” is intended to mean a large amount. This is the case even though this is technically the incorrect definition of “mickle.”

If you were to use the phrase now, it should be with these intended meanings in mind. Therefore, it would be incorrect to use this phrase to mean anything other than “many small amounts will eventually become a large amount.”

In What Situations Can You Use “Many a Mickle Makes a Muckle”?

In modern times, there are few situations where you are likely to employ this phase. This is especially so now that we know that it is somewhat nonsensical and derived from a misunderstanding of the original proverb.

However, if you were to use it, it would likely be to remind someone to save small amounts of money. After all, over time, small amounts can accrue to form larger amounts. Essentially, you can use it to give financial advice in a particularly confusing manner!