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Re: Cotton (verb)

Posted by R. Berg on August 14, 2002

In Reply to: Cotton posted by Ralph harmon on August 14, 2002

: The origin of " I don't cotton to that".

The Oxford English Dictionary gives earlier figurative senses of "cotton": "To prosper, succeed, 'get on' well" (obsolete) and "To 'get on' together or with each other; to suit each other; to work harmoniously, harmonize, agree." The OED says the origin of the figurative senses is uncertain but directs the reader to some of its quotations. First, "cotton" as a verb has a few literal meanings, including this old one: "Of cloth, etc.: To form or take on a nap, to rise with a nap." Now, these are the quotations that hint at the transition to the figurative sense:
[Literal sense:]
In making Hats, 'To Cotton well', is when the Wooll and other Materials work well and imbody together .
'Cotton', to succeed, to go on prosperously: a metaphor, probably, from the finishing of cloth, which when it cottons, or rises to a regular nap, is nearly or quite complete .
[Figurative sense:]
It cottens well; it cannot choose but bear A pretty nap .

Presumably the later figurative senses, "To agree, to fraternize" and "To 'take' to, attach oneself to; to become drawn or attached to," developed from the earlier figurative ones.