From Middle English mickle, michel, mikel, mochel, muchel, mukel (“much; many; large, tall; great”), from Old English miċel, myċel (“big, large; great; much”) or Old Norse mikill (“great, tall; much”), both from Proto-Germanic *mikilaz (“great, large; many, much”), from Proto-Indo-European *méǵh₂s (“big, great”). The word is cognate with Icelandic mikill (“large in quantity or number; much; great”).
The noun sense “a small amount” was due to the proverb many a little makes a mickle being incorrectly rendered as many a mickle makes a muckle, leading to mickle being thought to mean “a small quantity” and muckle to mean “a large quantity”, even though muckle is a variant of mickle and both mean “a large quantity”.
- (Received Pronunciation) IPA(key): /ˈmɪk(ə)l/
Audio (UK) (file)
- (General American) IPA(key): /ˈmɪkəl/
- Rhymes: -ɪkəl
- Hyphenation: mick‧le
- (archaic, now chiefly Scotland and Northern England, especially Northumbria) (Very) great or large.
- Synonym: muckle
- c. 1591–1595, [William Shakespeare], […] Romeo and Juliet. […] (First Quarto), London: […] Iohn Danter, published 1597, OCLC 503903918, [Act II, scene iii]:
- Oh mickle is the powerfull grace that lies / In hearbes, plants, ſtones, and their true qualities: / For nought ſo vile, that vile on earth doth liue, / But to the earth ſome ſpeciall good doth giue: […]
- 1932, Lewis Grassic Gibbon [pseudonym; James Leslie Mitchell], “Prelude: The Unfurrowed Field”, in Sunset Song: A Novel, London: Jarrolds, Limited, OCLC 2475466; republished Edinburgh: Canongate Books, 2008, →ISBN, page 1:
- In the Den of Kinraddie one such beast had its lair […] and at gloaming a shepherd would see it, with its great wings half-folded across the great belly of it and its head, like the head of a meikle cock, but with the ears of a lion, poked over a fir tree, watching.
- (archaic, now chiefly Scotland) To a great extent.
- 1586 January 12, the Master of Gray [i.e., Patrick Gray, 6th Lord Gray], “[Appendix to the Second Volume] To the Right Hon. My Lord Chancellor and Secretary to His Majesty, from the Master of Gray”, in William Robertson, The History of Scotland during the Reigns of Queen Mary and of King James VI. till His Accession to the Crown of England. […] In Two Volumes, volume II, 4th edition, London: Printed for A[ndrew] Millar, […], published 1761, OCLC 741693003, page 445:
- They ſay here, […] that ye deſired not the king and England to agree, becauſe it would rack the noblemen, […] I anſwered in your name that I was aſſured you had never ſpoken it. Mr. Archibald [Douglas] is the ſpeaker of it, who I aſſure your lordſhip has been a poiſon in this matter, for they lean very mickle to his opinion.
- 1778, Thomas Warton, “Section XXVI”, in The History of English Poetry, from the Close of the Eleventh to the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century, London: For, and sold by, J. Dodsley [et al.], OCLC 639804959; republished as The History of English Poetry, from the Eleventh to the Seventeenth Century. […], London: Ward, Lock, and Co., […], 1875, OCLC 22932830, page 424:
- […] I livd in a house by the Tower, which has not been repaird since Robert Consull of Gloucester repayrd the castle and wall; here I livd warm, but in my house on the hyll the ayre was mickle keen, […]
- 1790, John Whitaker, chapter VI, in Mary Queen of Scots Vindicated. [...] In Three Volumes, volume I, 2nd enlarged and corrected edition, London: Printed for J[ohn] Murray, […], OCLC 731621593, § IV, page 478:
- 1814 July 7, [Walter Scott], chapter XIX, in Waverley; […], volume III, Edinburgh: […] James Ballantyne and Co. for Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, OCLC 270129598, page 282:
- That I wad wi' a' my heart; and mickle obliged to your honour for putting me in mind o' my bounden duty.
- (obsolete) Frequently, often.
- (archaic, chiefly Scotland) A great amount.
- Many a little makes a mickle.
- 1576, Iohannes Caius [i.e., John Caius]; Abraham Fleming, transl., “To the Reader”, in Of Englishe Dogges, the Diuersities, the Names, the Natures, and the Properties. […], imprinted at London: By [John Charlewood for] Rychard Johnes, […], OCLC 1121314616; republished London: Printed by A. Bradley, […], 1880, OCLC 669210085:
- Neurthelesse little or mickle, something or nothing, substaunce or shadow take all in good part, my meaning is by a fewe wordes to wynne credit to this works, not so much for mine owne Englishe Translation as for the singular commendation of them, challenged of dutie and desart.
- 1620, [Miguel de Cervantes]; Thomas Shelton, transl., “What Passed betwixt Don Quixote and His Squire, with Other Most Famous Accidents”, in The Second Part of the History of the Valorovs and Witty Knight-errant, Don Quixote of the Mancha. […], London: Printed [by Eliot’s Court Press] for Edward Blount, OCLC 606504853, page 41:
- In a word, I muſt know what I may gaine, little or much: for the henne layes aſwell vpon one egge as many, and many littles make a mickle, and whilſt ſomething is gotten, nothing is loſt.
- 1874, P. B. Power, Two-edged Proverbs: II.—‘Every Little Makes a Mickle.’, volume IX, London; Paris: Cassell, Petter & Galpin, OCLC 1009010932, page 772, column 1:
- Many of the great fortunes in this country have been built up of pence and halfpence—I might also say of farthings. The odd halfpenny and three-farthings that you see (if you look close) upon the ticketed article in the shop-window, forms one of the littles; and a profit of hundreds of pounds, or often thousands, at the end of the year, forms the mickle.
- (archaic, Scotland, originally erroneous) A small amount.
- 1831 December 3, “Improvements”, in Samuel Hazard, editor, Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania: Devoted to the Preservation of Facts and Documents, and Every Kind of Useful Information Respecting the State of Pennsylvania, volume VIII, number 23 (issue 205 overall), Philadelphia, Pa.: Printed by Wm. F. Geddes, […], OCLC 8630082, page 367, column 2:
- While we boast of our farming, we must repeat again and again, the secret of our prosperity. It is a regular rotation of crops, making a little out of many articles, rather than attempting to make much of one; remembering the Scotch proverb, that "many a mickle makes a muckle"; […]
- (obsolete) Great or important people as a class.
- (obsolete) Greatness, largeness, stature.
- (archaic, now chiefly Scotland and Northern England, especially Northumbria) Much; a great quantity or amount of.
- 15th century, Edith Rickert, compiler, “O Jesu Parvule”, in Ancient English Christmas Carols: MCCCC to MDCC (The New Medieval Library), London: Chatto & Windus; New York, N.Y.: Duffield & Co., published 1910, OCLC 936840676, part I (Carols of the Nativity), page 67:
- There was mickle melody at that Childës [Jesus Christ's] birth, / All that were in heaven's bliss, they made mickle mirth.
- 1590, Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Qveene. […], London: […] [John Wolfe] for VVilliam Ponsonbie, OCLC 960102938, book III, canto VII, stanza 32, page 503:
- Full many wounds in his corrupted fleſh / He did engraue, and muchell blood did ſpend, / Yet might not doe him die, but aie more freſh / And fierce he ſtill appeard, the more he did them threſh.
- 1597–1598, T[homas] M[iddleton], “Satyre 2. Prodigall Zodon.”, in Micro-cynicon: Sixe Snarling Satyres. […], imprinted at London: By Thomas Creede, for Thomas Bushell, […], published 1599, OCLC 837469775; republished as [Edward Vernon Utterson], editor, Micro-cynicon: Sixe Snarling Satyres, [Ryde, Isle of Wight?]: Reprinted at the Beldornie Press, by G. E. Palmer, for Edwd. V. Utterson, 1842, OCLC 1008051468:
- Hees forc't to trot with fardle at his backe, / From houſe to houſe, demaunding if they lacke / A poore yong man that's willing to take paine, / And mickle labour, though for little gaine.
- 1675, Thomas Sternhold; John Hopkins [et al.], “The Whole Book of Psalms: Collected into English Meeter”, in The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments: […], Oxford: At the Theater, OCLC 181678792, Psalm lxxviij:22–24:
- Becauſe they did not faithfully believe, and hope that he / Could alwaies help and ſuccor them in their neceſſitie. / Wherefore he did command the clouds, forthwith they brake in ſunder, / And rain'd down Manna for them to eat, a food of mickle wonder.
- (archaic, now chiefly Scotland and Northumbria) Most; the majority of.
- 1861, “Puir Grizel: A Tale o’ Scotland”, in Mrs. S. C. Hall [i.e., Anna Maria Hall], editor, The St. James’s Magazine, volume I, London: Published for the proprietor by W. Kent and Co., Paternoster Row; New York, N.Y.: Willmer and Rogers, OCLC 639910631, page 74:
- [H]e that tellt me saw wi' his ain ee'n, an' heard wi' his ain ears, the mickle part o' what I'm gaun to say—an' what he didna see or hear hissell, he learned frae those wha'd kent a' frae the beginnin'
- ^ “muchel, adj.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “muchel, adv.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “muchel, n.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007.
- ^ “mickle”, in Lexico, Dictionary.com; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
- mickle in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913.
- “mickle”, in John A. Simpson and Edward S. C. Weiner, editors, The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989, →ISBN.