many a mickle makes a muckle

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many a mickle makes a muckle

Post by Archived Topic » Thu Nov 25, 2004 9:39 am

Also MANY A LITTLE MAKES A MICKLE: Small amounts accumulate to form a large quantity. Often used as small sums of money saved over a long period. Dr. Samuel Johnson (1709-84, English Lexicographer, critic, and poet) wrote in ‘Essays’ of circa 1750):
“My mother used, upon all occasions, to include some salutary axioms . . . and as I grew up, stored my memory with deeper observations; restrained me from the usual puerile expenses, by remarking that MANY A LITTLE MADE A MICKLE.”
The proverb was first recorded in this form in 1614, but the sentiment it expresses is of earlier origin. ‘Mickle’ is a dialect word for a large quantity. The variant form “Many a mickle makes a muckle’ is actually meaningless, as ‘muckle’ is synonymous with ‘mickle.’

Proverbs expressing a similar sentiment are: “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.”

(Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs)

Ken G – September 13, 2004

From Brewers, "Phrase and Fable:"

" Many a little makes a mickle. The real Scotch proverb is: “A wheen o' mickles mak's a muckle,” where mickle means little, and muckle much; but the Anglo-Saxon micel or mycel means “much,” so that, if the Scotch proverb is accepted, we must give a forced meaning to the word “mickle.”

Response from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

.. don't know about it being in current usage but I can remember it being used by my maternal and paternal grandparents to me when they had given me a shiny halfpenny to put away .. that was over 50 years ago .. and yes I took it to mean that if I kept the small amounts they gave me then I would one day have a large amount ..

WoZ of Aus 09/09/04

Response from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)

My grandmother used the phrase as well, but she used it to mean "much a do about nothing"

Response from Gary Wallington (Akolele - Australia)


Similar phrases abound:

Also, from Brewer's P&F:

:Economy is a great income. “No alchemy like frugality.” “Ever save, ever have.” The following also are to a similar effect: “A pin a day is a groat a year.” “Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of themselves.” “Many a little makes a mickle.” “Frae saving, comes having.” “A penny saved is a penny gained.” “Little and often fills the purse.” 7

Latin: “Non intelligunt homines quam magnum vectgal sit parsimonia” (Cicero). “Sera in fundo est parsimonia” (Seneca). 8

French: “Plusieurs Peu font un Beaucoup.” “Denier sur denier bâtit la maison.” 9

German: “Die sparsamkeit ist ein grosser zyll” (Parsimony is a great income).

Response from Leif Thorvaldson (Eatonville - U.S.A.)

The British musical humourists Flanders and Swann used the phrase in their tragic ballad "Misalliance", an ill-fated romance between a right-handed and a left-handed climbing plant, punctuated with painful rhymes ("maks a muckle", of course rhymes with Honeysuckle, as does "...hope our luck'll"; "...if our parents don't mind we'd..." rhymes with Bindweed".

Such a sad ending too...

Response from Simon Beck (London - England)

I've found the lyrics to "Misalliance" by Flanders and Swann (as recorded at their 1957 revue "At the Drop of a Hat"):


The fragrant Honeysuckle spirals clockwise to the sun
And many other creepers do the same.
But some climb anti-clockwise; the Bindweed does, for one,
Or Convolvulus, to give her proper name.
Rooted on either side a door one of each species grew
And raced towards the window-ledge above;
Each corkscrewed to the lintel in the only way it knew,
Where they stopped, touched tendrils, smiled, and fell in love.
Said the right-handed Honeysuckle
To the left-handed Bindweed:
'Oh, let us get married
If our parents don't mind; we'd
Be loving and inseparable,
Inextricably entwined;
we'd Live happily ever after,'
Said the Honeysuckle to the Bindweed.
To the Honeysuckle's parents it came as a shock.
'The Bindweeds', they cried, 'are inferior stock,
They're uncultivated, of breeding bereft;
We twine to the right-and they twine to the left!'
Said the anti-clockwise Bindweed
To the clockwise Honeysuckle:
'We'd better start saving,
Many a mickle maks a muckle,
Then run away for a honeymoon
And hope that our luck'll
Take a turn for the better,'
Said the Bindweed to the Honeysuckle.
A Bee who was passing remarked to them then:
Tve said it before, and I'll say it again;
Consider your off-shoots, if off-shoots there be,
They'll never receive any blessing from me!
'Poor little sucker, how will it learn
When it is climbing, which way to turn?
Right-left-what a disgrace!
Or it may go straight up and fall flat on its face!'
Said the right-hand thread Honeysuckle
To the left-hand thread Bindweed:
'It seems that against us
All fate has combined ...
Oh my darling, oh my darling
Oh my darling Columbine,
Thou art lost and gone for ever,
We shall never intertwine.'
Together they found them the very next day.
They had pulled up their roots and just shrivelled away,
Deprived of that freedom for which we must fight-
To veer to the left or to veer to the right!


Response from Simon Beck (London - England)

Simon .. thanks mate I enjoyed the poem .. a wonderful piece of verse that at deeper levels has sinister political undertones .. why DO the yanks drive on the right ???

WoZ of Aus 10/09/04

Response from Wizard of Oz (Newcastle - Australia)

Wiz, Could it be that the answer is Plato’s, “Might makes right’ which, incidentally, our misguided pipsqueak president has taken up as the battlecry of his bully pulpit?

Ken – September 9, 2004

P.S. Simon, A very nice poem.

Response from Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)

I don't believe the quote "Might makes Right" is from Plato. I have done some scratching but have only come up with following:

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith let us dare to do our duty as we understand it.
Abraham Lincoln ( - ____)

Speech, 2/21/1859

might makes right

Superior strength can enforce one's will or dictate justice, as in The generals dismissed the parliament and imprisoned the premiermight makes right in that country, or The big boys wouldn't let the little ones use the basketball, a case of might makes right. This expression was first recorded in English about 1327.

Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.

At first, I thought it might be from Machiavelli, but no joy there.

As to your attributing it as a the battle cry of President Bush, might you be so kind as to cite that for me?

Response from ( - )

Dear (-), The concept of ‘might makes right’ (or ‘might is right’ and formerly ‘might overcomes, outgoes, or overgoes right’) means that superior strength can enforce one’s will or dictate justice, the powerful dictate justice, the strongest are always in the right, the possession of power, rather than any moral consideration, determines the legitimacy of an action, policy, etc. It is generally attributed to Plato (427-347 B.C.), although its first appearance in English is often said to be the early 14th century (see quotes below). “The observation [‘might makes right’] was made by the Greek philosopher Plato in ‘The Republic’ (circa 375 B.C.) [[340a, Lucan 1. 175]] and has been stated many times since, in numerous languages.”—‘The Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés.’

The concept of ‘might makes right was earlier expressed in Aesop’s (c620–c560 B.C.) tale of the ‘Lion and the Wild Ass’ in which the lion and a wild ass went out hunting together (the ass ran down the prey and the lion killed it) but the lion claimed all of the spoils for himself on the basis of his superior power. The concept was also lamented by Greek poet Hesiod in his ‘Works and Days’ (circa 700 B.C.).

But the most extensive discussion of this ‘bully’ (hence ‘Bush’) idea is presented by Plato in the first book of his ‘Republic,’ in which Socrates argues, through various syllogistic machinations, to disprove the claim of the Sophist, Thrasymachus (459 - c. 400), that power is justice and strength is law. “Socrates’ argues that the exercise of naked power leads to injuries, and the injured man cannot be said to have been justly served. “Justice is nothing else than the interest of the stronger.” And right cannot produce wrong, so therefore might cannot in itself make right. Furthermore, injustice tends to the destruction of the state.

Whether the precise translation of what Plato said is ‘might makes right,’ I can’t say – but that is what he was talking about and perhaps that is why the phrase is often attributed to him. Words similar to ‘might makes right’ were also written by 1st-century poet Lucan (39-65 A.D.) in his epic ‘Pharsalia’: ‘Mensura iuris vis est.’—‘Might is the measure of right.’ Lucan’s phrase was inspired from the bitter experience of his having developed a rivalry with his patron, the emperor Nero. As Roman historian Tacitus (c55-c120 A.D.) described the situation, “Nero, who vainly supposed himself Lucan’s peer as a poet, cut down Lucan’s reputation and ordered him to avoid publicity.” This drove Lucan into a conspiracy against Nero which cost him his life.

An early English form of the expression appeared in a poem in 1311: “For [if] MIGHT IS RIGHT, the land is lawless.” And many examples exist from the 15th and 16th centuries – and, in fact, Random House claims that “in 1546, it was included in John Heywood’s collection of proverbs.” However, the first ‘exact’ appearance in English occurred sometime before 1618 in a phrase in an English translation of a work by a French poet, “MIGHT MAKES RIGHT in every Cause . . . “ (see quotes below).

I think that it is true to say ( at least according to the several volumes of proverbs, sayings, aphorisms, etc. that I have) that the attribution of these older phrases is often given to the first to most nearly express the concept – which in this case is Plato.
<1311 “For MIHT IS RIGHT, ‘e lond is laweles.”— ‘Historical Poems of the 14th & 15th Century (1959) by R. H. Robbins, page 141>

<c1450 “The . . . philisofre seyde MYGHT ES RYGHT.”—‘Speculum Christiani,’ page 124>.

<1553 “Wo be to that realme, where MIGHT OUTGOETH RIGHT.”—‘Arte of Rhetorique’ by T. Wilson, II, page 61>

<1600 S. NICOLSON “O manners, times, O world-declyning daies! Where MIGHT IS RIGHT, and men do what they please.”—‘Acolastus His After-wit,’ in ‘Acolastus,’ by S. Nicolson, page 366>

<a1618 “MIGHT MAKES RIGHT in every Cause . . . Vnder-foot, men tread the Lawes.”—‘The Divine Weekes and Workes’ by Guillaume Du Bartas (1544-1590) translated from French by English poet Joshua Sylvester (1563-1618).>

<1860 “Let us have faith that RIGHT MAKES MIGHT, and in that faith let us to the end dare to do our duty as we understand it>”—‘Address at Cooper Union’ [the college, in New York City> [[playing upon and expressing the opposite of the original]]
(Oxford English Dictionary, Facts on File Dictionary or Proverbs, It’s Greek to Me by Macrone, Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Random House Dictionary of America’s Popular Proverbs and Sayings)

Ken G – September 10, 2004
Submitted by Ken Greenwald (Fort Collins, CO - U.S.A.)
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many a mickle makes a muckle

Post by Archived Reply » Thu Nov 25, 2004 9:53 am

Mr./Madam (-):

In my view, what I think Lincoln's sentence is implying, is that the RIGHT thing to do was to stay knitted together as good citizens (doing your duty), north with south, including the Negro, and only then will we prevail as a MIGHTY nation. Hence; "Right is might," is correctly right in my and Abe Lincoln's view.

If an adult, strong and healthy, takes a 3 year old child, beats him/her, burns him/her with a cigarette (happens many times) and tortures the kid; this is the; "MIGHT THAT MAKES RIGHT? I don't think so.

I think Plato made up his own cases and wrote them in a Sophist format (fallaciously) so that he could impress his students, and especially Socrates.

Sue 09-13-04
Reply from Sue (- U.S.A.)
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