Sunday, April 11, 2021

Many Mickles Make a Muckle

Nothing in nature is more true—
"many mickles make a muckle."

— George Washington

In a post last May—when the lockdown was novel—I asked: What possible good can come from Covid-19?

My answer asserted that the virus was an "ugly duckling" from which would emerge a new normal "prettier than we ever imagined." As proof, I predicted:
  • The environment would refresh itself
  • The planet's animals would reassert themselves
  • Parents would rediscover their children—and vice versa
  • Neighbors would reach out to neighbors
  • People would rediscover art, architecture, books, and bikes
  • Family members would sleep longer and eat better
  • Citizens would recognize government wasn't the enemy
Since my post in May, an additional 470 thousand Americans have died of Covid-19; and 8 million have become poor. 

But are the rest of us in a better spot? Is the new normal prettier than imagined?

Yes, I believe it is, and in a major way; because things—little things—add up.

Many mickles make a muckle.

Muckle comes from mickle, Old English for a "big deal." 

In Beowulf's time, Brits would say Grendel was a mickle; call the Justinian Plague  a mickle; or name a big village Mickle-something, as we would call New York "The Big Apple" or New Orleans "The Big Easy."

The thriftier Brits even had a proverb: "Many a pickle makes a mickle," by which they meant, "expenses add up quickly." 

The Scots, speaking of thrift, pronounced mickle as muckle. We get our word much from muckle.

George Washington, prone to mangling English, in a 1793 letter to his manager at Mount Vernon coined the proverb "Many mickles make a muckle."

The thrift-minded Washington, intending to scold the man for piling up expenses during his time away from the plantation, meant to write "Many a pickle makes a mickle," but instead wrote "Many mickles make a muckle," failing to remember the two words are synonyms, not antonyms.

Washington's confusion aside, things do add up, even little things. Especially when you're in a pickle, as we are today.

But things aren't all bad. Covid-19 has in fact ushered changes long overdue:
  • Virology and telemedicine have blossomed
  • E-commerce and white-collar productivity are booming
  • Science and distance learning are no longer gated
  • The skies and waterways are healing themselves
  • And—an unmitigated blessing—Donald Trump is history
Many a pickle makes a mickle.

Pickle by the way denotes a "wee bit." A 17th century Scottish word, pickle referred to the grain on the top of a barley stalk.

Scotsmen also pronounced pickle as puckle, a word they still use to mean "bit."

Where we'd say "I want a bit of ketchup with my fries," a Scotsman might say "I want a puckle of ketchup with my fries."

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