Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘1793’

Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle

Posted by Admin on August 11, 2015

Until recently, Idiomation wasn’t aware of the idiom that proclaimed that many a mickle makes a muckle. As the idiom was researched, it was learned that mickle and muckle are different forms of the same word meaning much or large.

The saying is actually many a pickle maks a mickle, which some mangled into many a pickle maks a muckle. This in turn became many a mickle makes a muckle.

But what exactly did it mean to use pickle in this sense if mickle meant much or large? In Scotland, where the idiom originated, pickle meant a small quantity. So the idiom actually meant that many little things gathered together made for a lot.

On February 13, 1985, the Wilmington Morning Star published the usual assortment of Letters to the Editor. The first letter was from Henry Stone Jr. of Supply, North Carolina. The focus of the letter was military spending, or rather, military misspending. In his letter, he pointed out that when ten million in military spending couldn’t be accounted for, it was understandable given that ten million was only one half of one hundredth of one percent of the $200 billion budget. But it was still ten million dollars of taxpayers’ money. His last sentence was modified and became the headline for the Letters to the Editor that day: Many A Military Mickle Makes A Muckle.

Over in Australia, The Age newspaper ran an advertisement in the May 24, 1951 edition for the State Savings Bank of Victoria. Using a story about a little raindrop, the hope was that readers would bank with them. The first paragraph in the copy titled “Said The Raindrop!” was this:

Little by little makes more and more, or as the saying goes, “Many a mickle makes a muckle.”

The Milwaukee Sentinel of May 18, 1924 published an advertisement placed by the First Wisconsin National Bank — a bank that proudly announced that it had capital and surplus of ten million dollars, and boasted a clientele of over 59,000 customers. The advertisement was intended to encourage readers to save money at their bank, stating that every little bit, added to what one already had, made for a little bit more. The advertisement was titled, “Many A Mickle Makes A Muckle.”

In the May 20, 1916 edition of the Milwaukee Journal a small tidbit of information was tucked neatly between comments about Germany, and the House Committee’s decision to authorize seven capital ships (three dreadnaughts and four battle cruisers), and an OpEd piece by H. Addington Bruce discussing the drawbacks of being a dilettante.

The nugget praised France for making the most of little things, and was titled, “The Power Of Little Things.” The article ended with this paragraph.

Many a mickle makes a muckle, but America has just begun to learn the lesson. Many a small waste added to the great current makes a vast drain of hundreds of millions of dollars. France, above all nations, can teach us the undreamed power of little things combined into stupendous wholes.

When George Washington (22 February 1732 – 14 December 1799) heard the expression used, he misremembered it and introduced it to America as many mickles make a muckle. It would appear that the misremembered expression was first used in a letter he wrote to William Pearce on December 18, 1793 in which he wrote:

Nothing will contribute more to effect these desirable purposes than a good example, unhapply this was not set (from what I have learnt lately) by Mr. Whiting, who, it is said, drank freely, kept bad company at my house and in Alexandria, and was a very debauched person, wherever this is the case it is not easy for a man to throw the first stone for fear of having it returned to him: and this I take to be the true cause why Mr. Whiting did not look more scrupulously into the conduct of the Overseers, and more minutely into the smaller matters belonging to the Farms; which, though individually may be trifling, are not found so in the agregate; for there is no addage more true than an old Scotch one, that “many mickles make a muckle.”

But George Washington wasn’t the only American to share a misheard version of the idiom. In fact, in the writings of Benjamin Franklin (17 January 1706 – 17 April 1790), a variation appears. In Volume II of “The Writings of Benjamin Franklin” collected and edited by Albert Henry Smith and covering the years 1722 through 1750 inclusive, the following is said to have been published in The Pennsylvania Gazette on July 24, 1732 under the pseudonym of Celia Single. In the letter, a discussion is recounted and includes this:

“I knit Stockins for you!” says she; “not I truly! There are poor Women in Town, that can knit; if you please, you may employ them.” “Well, but my Dear,” says he, “you know a penny sav’d is a penny got, a pin a day is a groat a year, every little makes a muckle, and there is neither Sin nor Shame in Knitting a pair of Stockins; why should you express such a might Aversion to it? As to poor Women, you know we are not People of Quality, we have no Income to maintain us but what arises from my Labour and Industry: Methinks you should not be at all displeas’d, if you have an Opportunity to get something as well as myself.”

For those who prefer George Washington’s variation, many mickels make a muckle dates back to George Washington and 1793. For those who prefer Benjamin Franklin’s variation, every little makes a muckle dates back to Benjamin Franklin and 1732.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Screw Loose

Posted by Admin on March 3, 2011

The phrase “screw loose” likens a mental weakness to a machine in which a part is not securely fastened.

Back on May 4, 1970 the Eugene Register-Guard ran an article by Jack Gould of the New York Times about children’s programming.  In his article, “Programs For Children Make Little Sense” he wrote:

There is a screw loose in television’s approach ot programming for children.  The deservedly successful “Sesame Street” is fine enrichment of the morning hours and there’s been erratic improvement in the Saturday morning schedules of the commercial networks.  But the major need does not exist solely in the mornings, helpful though such morning diversion is, and the emphasis on Saturday morning programming is overstressed; that is the one period of the week when a family actually has a chance to get together.

In the Letters to the Editor at the New York Times on  August 4, 1900, Walter H. Lewiston had a fair bit to say to New Yorkers as well as the newspaper in his letter entitled, “How To Obtain Party Recruits.”  In it he wrote:

That it is necessary to urge the district leaders to do their duty is a proof that there is a screw loose somewhere, and to show how it got loose and why it remains so is the object of this communication, which I ask you to publish, as, notwithstanding your open opposition to the Democratic National ticket, I look upon The New York Times as being a Democratic paper.

In Anthony Trollope’s book “The Eustace Diamonds” published in 1870, in Chapter 69, a wedding is called off which means that the wedding breakfast booked at a hotel is cancelled.  The passage in the book reads:

Lady Eustace carried her message to the astonished and indignant bridesmaids, and succeeded in sending them back to their respective homes. Richard, glorious in new livery, forgetting that his flowers were still on his breast,–ready dressed to attend the bride’s carriage,–went with his sad message, first to the church and then to the banqueting-hall in Albemarle Street.

“Not any wedding?” said the head-waiter at the hotel. “I knew they was folks as would have a screw loose somewheres. There’s lots to stand for the bill, anyways,” he added, as he remembered all the tribute.

Now back in 1824, the Department of War, acting in what it claimed was “in the interest of peace, and restoration of good feeling between the Citizens and Indians of the [Washington] territory” brought a number of North American Indian chiefs to Washington, DC — an undertaking funded entirely by the Department.  Funds were juggled from a number of sources and to this day, it’s unclear why that might be.  However, it wasn’t something that was looked upon favourably by Department of War employees. In fact, one employee wrote  :

The derangements in the fiscal affairs of the Indian department are in the extreme.  One would think that appropriations had been handled with a pitchfork.  There is a screw loose in the public machinery somewhere.

The phrase comes from the cotton industry and dates back to 1793 with the industrial revolution.  For the first time, mass production of textiles was made possible thanks to the invention of the cotton gin. However, like all automated services, machines didn’t always run properly.  Machines that broke down or produced defective cloth were said to have a “screw loose” somewhere.

In 1798, Eli Whitney invented a way to manufacture muskets by machine so that the parts were interchangeable. Interestingly enough, when there was a misfire in the manufacture of the muskets or with the muskets themselves, a “screw loose” somewhere was the first thing that popped into people’s minds.

Posted in Idioms from the 18th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Eat, Drink And Be Merry

Posted by Admin on September 13, 2010

The phrase “eat, drink and be merry” has been around quite some time.  In fact,  in 1932, Baltimore resident Frederick Philip Stieff published a collection of hundreds of recipes from handwritten recipe books and the title of that cookbook was none other than “Eat, Drink and Be Merry.”

Perhaps Frederick Philip Stieff had come across the copy of the Ashburton Guardian somewhere along the way as this newspaper carried a news story on page 3 entitled “Happiest Of All” and published  in the June 16, 1896 edition where the last two lines read:

Happiest, perhaps, of all are they who have been lifted up by Mother Siegel’s remedy and placed where once again they can eat, drink and be merry.  And if all these could be gathered together they would make a greater host than the Greek poet ever dreamed of.

Still, the history of the phrase appears to go back at least to a restaurant founded in 1793 and located high above Paris on Montmartre’s Place du Tertre.  The historic eatery knowns as La Mère Cathérine — where the term bistro was first coined — saw Georges Jacques Danton, one of the leaders of the French Revolution and the first President of the Committee of Public Safety scratch the phrase  “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die” into the walls of this legendary establishment.

Some will tell you that the phrase comes from Dante‘s “Inferno” completed in 1321 but the truth of the matter is, the phrase is much, much older than that and actually comes from the Bible.

More often than not, the phrase is used out of its original context with its meaning reversed. Paul used this quote from Isaiah 22:13 in 1 Corinthians 15:32.

Paul’s intention was to show the pointlessness of life for Christians if there was no belief in the resurrection.  If a Christian did not believe in the resurrection, he might as well enjoy himself as much as possible since there would be nothing to look forward to in death.

Posted in Bible, Christian, Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 18th Century, Religious References | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »