Printable Version
Pronunciation: -kêl Hear it!

Part of Speech: Adjective, Adverb

Meaning: (Scots English) 1. Much, many. 2. Large, great.

Notes: Usage of today's word tapered off over the course of the 20th Century even in its last stronghold, Scotland, always a land of fascinating words. An older variant of this word is mickle. In The Eve of St. Agnes (xiv) Keats pleads, "Let me laugh awhile, I've mickle time to grieve." Most Scots today would probably prefer using muckle, as did Frank Kippax as recently as 1992 in The Butcher's Bill: "The Home Guard barged in and waved a muckle pistol in his face."

In Play: Today our word is heard mostly in the idiom, "Many a mickle makes a muckle," meaning roughly "a many littles make a lot", an encouragement to save for a rainy day. This idiomatic (unpredictable) phrase seems contradictory and probably is a corruption of "Many a little makes a muckle," suggesting the Scots themselves are letting this quaintly old fashioned word slip away. Still and again, J. D. Salinger wrote in Catcher in the Rye (1951), Chapter 11, that Jane Gallagher "was sort of muckle-mouthed", because when she talked excitedly "her mouth sort of went in about fifty directions".

Word History: The origin of today's word is a prominent root meg- "great, large" found in almost every Indo-European language in some form. It came to Old English as micel, which by Middle English was muchel and, finally, much in Modern English, but we find it in Norwegian and Danish as meget "very (much)" and Swedish as mycken "much", as well. The ancient Greek cognate is megas "great", borrowed in all the English words beginning with mega, such as megastar, megaton, and megabyte. It also underlies megalomania "delusions of wealth and power". In Armenian it became mec "great" and in Albanian, madh "great". Sanskrit maha "great" is used in several words borrowed into English, including mahatma "great spirit" as in Mahatma Gandhi, maharishi "great seer," and maha raja "great king". The last word also includes raja, a relative of royal and French roi "king." (And now muckle thanks to that great Italian Scotsman Sal McGundy for suggesting today's almost lost Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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