I've heard this phrase, and don't know what a "mickle" or a "muckle" is. Hence I have no idea at all what the phrase itself is supposed to mean.

  • 1
    I believe the Scots version is "Mony a puckle maks a muckle", picked up from when I lived in Scotland.
    – user95021
    Oct 20, 2014 at 12:09
  • "Two muckles in the duckle and one in the sky." My Irish grandparents used this phrase to describe something that was highly unlikely to occur, as in there will be to muckles (moons) in the duckle (manure pile) and one in the sky before such and such occurs.
    – user109726
    Feb 15, 2015 at 22:37
  • Although the phrase implies “Many a small thing makes a large thing”, in Scotland both mean great or large. As a schoolboy in Glasgow, I remember seeing the play “The Lass wi a muckle moo” [big mouth]. And Robert Burns’ poem “Willie Chalmers", 1786, uses mickle to mean great. I quote: "Wi braw new branks [bridle] in mickle pride, And eke a braw new brechan [collar], My Pegasus I’m got astride, And up Parnassus pechin [panting]
    – Brian F
    May 20, 2022 at 12:17

6 Answers 6


In this phrase, a mickle is a small amount of something (the Scots usage is intended in this proverb) and a muckle is a large amount, so the saying means that you can accumulate a great deal by many small savings.

Some confusion may be caused by the fact that a mickle can also mean a large amount (isn't there a question about words than mean the opposite of themselves somewhere?).

  • 9
    As you say, a mickle can (also) mean a large amount. In fact mickle and muckle are just alternatives for the same word. The original Scots saying was Many a little makes a mickle, but the rest of the English-speaking world don't use the Scots words anyway. So we just bowlderised it into today's common form to alliterate with Many littles make much. May 24, 2011 at 12:24
  • 3
    Save a penny, Save a pound; Little strokes fell great oaks.
    – mplungjan
    May 24, 2011 at 13:03
  • Right. Unfortunately this explanation (though plausible) is wrong, see Colin Fine's answer. Jul 14, 2013 at 22:01

"Mickle" is a (now obsolete except in dialect) word meaning "great", and is cognate with "much". "Muckle" is a variant, particularly used in Scotland.

The OED says of the phrase you are asking about:

[mickle, n.:] A large sum or amount. Chiefly in proverb: many a little (also pickle) makes a mickle (now freq. in the garbled form many a mickle makes a muckle).

The form many a mickle makes a muckle (earliest recorded in quot. 1793) arises from a misapprehension that, rather than being variants of the same word, mickle and muckle have opposite meanings, the former representing ‘a small amount’ and the latter ‘a large amount’.


A Mickle is an Irish word for 'coin' and a Muckle is an old Cockney term (derived from old Yiddish slang) meaning a 'bundle'. The phrase means to save each coin and create a bundle, i.e. a bundle of coins. In more modetn venacular it translates to 'save a penny, save a pound'.

Keith Waterhouse did not invent the term but attempted to relate it to a wider audience - being the literate classes as the folk who actually used the term were illiterate working poor of London. He was using it to relay amusement at the kind of expressions used by the uneducated poor. In addition, though the phrase was used up North in Yorkshire and Scotland it originated in the East End of London.

Interestingly enough 'to take the mick' is from the same Irish word 'mickle' - to take the 'mickle'/ to take the 'penny' (i.e. to fool or deceive someone of their money). Also you will still sometimes hear a London Black Cab driver use the word 'Muckle' to describe a large amount, for instance 'theres a Muckle to be made tonight' or 'theres a Muckle to be made if you do the hours', however disclosure of good earnings is usually only discussed in the confidence of another Cabbie.

Stand on me, I'm a 3rd generation Cabbie.

  • 2
    MIckle and muckle are variants of the same English word. Neither Irish nor Yiddish is involved in this expression.
    – Colin Fine
    Sep 8, 2016 at 22:30
  • This answer is utterly incorrect. There is no such Irish word for a coin (that would be bonn ‘coin piece’, or in more abstract terms, monadh ‘coinage, money’). There is nothing Cockney about the phrase either—it’s from Scotland. Take the mick(ey) (earlier form: take the mike) is completely unrelated to mickle or any kind of Irish coin as well, though that phrase is actually Cockney: it’s take the Mickey Bliss, i.e., ‘take the piss’. I don’t know much Yiddish slang, but given that absolutely everything else here is nonsense, I’m guessing there’s no such ‘bundle’ word either. Jan 14, 2017 at 13:37
  • @Colin Fine he is correct in saying that is has origins in both Irish & Yiddish. people travel & words travel with them. is not like the whole of ireland is purely irish or the whole of scotland is full of scotts since the beginning of time. Dialects get mixed & matched between various different cultures.
    – Ryan Stone
    Mar 10, 2020 at 19:08

My father used this phrase many a mickle makes a muckle" he all ways told people when asked what the meaning was, would say many a small part makes a greater whole part. Also my father used this saying as well think small build big.


The phrase is "mony a mickle maks a muckle" and means "lots of little ones make a big one".

  • Do you have sources?
    – Luke_0
    Nov 13, 2012 at 18:48

"There's many a mickle makes a muckle" is a spoof - it has no meaning. It is a saying invented by two characters in the Keith Waterhouse book Billy Liar to parody Councillor Duxbury, the co-founder and boss of Chadrack and Duxbury funeral service. Duxbury has a range of obscure Yorkshire sayings that are a source of amusement to his younger, less reverential, employees. They go on to invent some sayings which sound plausible but are meaningless - "I'm about thraiped wi' thee" or "There's many a mickle makes a muckle".

  • 1
    Can you provide any independent references to substantiate you answer please?
    – TrevorD
    Jul 22, 2013 at 11:28
  • 1
    This source here dates it to 1614. Jul 22, 2013 at 12:03
  • This answer is incorrect. Keith Waterhouse may have used the phrase, but he certainly did not invent it, and it certainly is not a spoof (though it may be a spoof in the book). Jan 14, 2017 at 13:40

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