c. 1200, "great in quantity or extent" (also "great in size, big, large," a sense now obsolete), a worn-down form (by loss of unaccented last syllable) of Middle English muchel "large, tall; many, in a large amount; great, formidable," from Old English micel "great in amount or extent," from Proto-Germanic *mekilaz, from PIE root *meg- "great."
As a noun, "a large quantity, a great deal," and as an adverb, "in a great degree, intensely, extensively," from c. 1200. Since 17c. the adverb has been much-used as a prefix to participial forms to make compound adjectives. For vowel evolution, see bury. Too much was used from late 14c. in the senses "astonishing, incredible," also "too offensive, unforgivable." Much-what "various things, this and that" (late 14c.) was "Very common in the 17th c." [OED] and turns up in an 1899 book of Virginia folk-speech as well as "Ulysses."
late 14c., mochenes, "largeness of size" (a sense now obsolete); c. 1400, "greatness of number or degree; state of being great in quantity or extent," from much + -ness. Earlier was Middle English muchelnesse (c. 1200). Phrase much of a muchness "of about the same importance or value" is attested from 1728.
"great, large; much, abundant; a great deal," a dialectal survival of Old English micel, mycel "great, intense, big, long, much, many," from Proto-Germanic *mekilaz (source also of Old Saxon mikil, Old Norse mikill, Old High German mihhil, Gothic mikils), from PIE root *meg- "great." Its main modern form is much (q.v.); the common Middle English form was muchel. The phonetic development of the dialectal survival is obscure and might reflect Old Norse influence. Related: Mickleness. Middle English had muchel-what (pron.) "many various things."
c. 1300, at first found chiefly in northern England and north Midlands writing, "powerful, strong," of obscure origin, possibly from a Scandinavian source (compare Norwegian dialectal bugge "great man"). Old English used micel (see much) in many of the same senses. It came into general use c. 1400. Meaning "of great size" is late 14c.; that of "full-grown, grown up" is attested from late 14c. Sense of "important, influential, powerful" is from c. 1400. Meaning "haughty, inflated with pride" is from 1570s. Meaning "generous" is U.S. colloquial by 1913.
Big band as a musical style is from 1926. Slang big head "conceit" is first recorded 1850. Big business "large commercial firms collectively" is from 1913 (before that it meant "a profitable income in business"). Big top "main tent of a circus" is from 1895. Big game "large animals hunted for sport" is from 1864. Big house "penitentiary" is U.S. underworld slang first attested 1915 (in London, "a workhouse," 1851). In financial journalism, big ticket items so called from 1956. Big lie is from Hitler's grosse Lüge.
Old English byrgan "to raise a mound, hide, enclose in a grave or tomb, inter," akin to beorgan "to shelter," from Proto-Germanic *burzjan- "protection, shelter" (source also of Old Saxon bergan, Dutch bergen, Old Norse bjarga, Swedish berga, Old High German bergan "protect, shelter, conceal," German bergen, Gothic bairgan "to save, preserve"), from PIE root *bhergh- (1) "to hide, protect." Meaning "cover, conceal from sight" is from 1711. Related: Buried; burying. Burying-ground "cemetery" attested from 1711. Buried treasure is from 1801.
The Old English -y- was a short "oo" sound, like modern French -u-. Under normal circumstances it transformed into Modern English -i- (in bridge, kiss, listen, sister, etc.), but in bury and a few other words (merry, knell) it retained a Kentish change to "e" that took place in the late Old English period. In the West Midlands, meanwhile, the Old English -y- sound persisted, slightly modified over time, giving the standard modern pronunciation of blush, much, church.
Old English mast "greatest in number, amount, or extent; largest," earlier mæst, from Proto-Germanic *maistaz (source also of Old Saxon mest, Old Frisian mast, Old Norse mestr, Dutch meest, German meist, Gothic maists "most"), superlative form of Proto-Germanic *maiz, root of Old English ma, mara (see more). Used in Old English as superlative of micel "great, large" (see mickle), hence, in later use, superlative of much. The vowel has been influenced by more.
Original sense of "greatest" survives in phrase for the most part (mid-14c.; late Old English had þa mæste dæl). Slang the most meaning "the best, extremely good" is attested from 1953. Also used as an adverb in Old English and in late Old English as a noun, "the greatest or greater number." The sense of "greatest value or advantage" in the phrase make the most of (something) is by 1520s. Related: Mostly.
Double superlative mostest "greatest amount or degree" is by 1849 in U.S. Southern and African-American vernacular. The formula for victory in battle attributed to famously unschooled Confederate Lt. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest is first attested (1886) as Git thar the fastest with the mostest men.
From 15c.-17c. English also had mostwhat "for the most part," mostwhen "on most occasions," mostwhere "in most places."