Thursday, 7 December 2006

Many a mickle makes a muckle

Unlike the Scots saying twa piggles dinna mek’ a thrup, this old English one does actually mean something: many small amounts accumulate to make a large amount. At least, that’s what it’s supposed to mean, but it doesn’t really, because mickle and muckle are merely variants of the same dialect word meaning "a large amount” (there was originally a misunderstanding that mickle means "a small amount”). So the whole thing is meaningless and certainly not worth quoting. [However, in Budapest they say "Sok kicsi sokra megy", which does mean exactly what this mickle nonsense is supposed to mean, thus showing that Hungarians are more sensible than Scotsmen.]

For further confusion it should be noted that a muckle is also a heavy maul for killing cod. The OED illustrates it with a quotation from Kipling’s 1897 novel Captains Courageous: There was no sound except.. the flapping of the cod, and the whack of the muckles as the men stunned them.

There was a 1937 film of the novel with Spencer Tracy and the English child actor Freddy Bartholomew who later, like his contemporary Shirley Temple, had a cocktail named after him. Both are non-alcoholic and the recipes sound disgusting.

It’s difficult to get away from muck: the Online OED has a column down the left-hand side of the page listing all the other words alphabetically within fifty or so of the one you are looking up, a hideously time-wasting arrangement which obliges me to inform my readers that muckibus is a rare Irish word meaning drunkenly sentimental or maudlin and muckerish is US college slang, also rare, meaning unsportsmanlike.

Mucker, on the other hand, has a great number of different meanings. I use it in the British army sense when I end this post with: that’s all for now, me old muckers.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

surely twa piggles dinna mek’ a thrup simply means two pigs don't make a third. They could be two males or two females.