They say that good things come in small packages or that it’s the little things in life that mean the most, and it’s interesting to note how many words there are to describe a tiny amount, such as a whit, a scrap, a trace or a spark. A smidgen is a Scottish word for ‘a very small amount’ and a skerrick ‘the smallest bit’ is also Scottish, although used mainly in New Zealand and Australia.
Many are food related such as morsel, from Latin morsus ‘a bite’ or crumb, from German krume. A pinch, such as a pinch of salt, means as much as you can hold between thumb and finger. ‘A soupçon of pepper’ means ‘a trace’ and comes from the French word for ‘suspicion’. A titbit usually refers to a piece of food or some juicy gossip.
A tad, meaning ‘to a small extent’, is probably short for a tadpole and was the nickname of US President Lincoln’s son Thomas in the late 1800s. A mite is used in the same way, ‘feeling a mite hungry’.
An iota is ‘a jot or an extremely small amount’, maybe because it’s the smallest letter in the Greek Alphabet. A modicum is ‘a small quantity’, especially of something desirable, such as ‘a modicum of truth’.
A shred, meaning ‘a strip of paper, cloth or food that has been torn from something’, comes from Old German screadian ‘to trim’. If you want to sound very elegant you could use scintilla, ‘a tiny trace or spark’ such as ‘a scintilla of doubt’.
Large amounts, on the other hand, are huge, gargantuan, gigantic, massive, whopping or jumbo.
A large amount of money could be a windfall, a mint or a fortune. Great numbers of something are scads, myriad, oodles, umpteen or gazillions. A crowd of people could be a multitude, a horde or a throng.
The English language is no slouch when it comes to supplying the right word, or several to choose from.