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Re: "cotton to"

Posted by Victoria S Dennis on November 13, 2006

In Reply to: Re: "cotton to" posted by Smokey Stover on November 12, 2006

: : Regarding the phrase "cotton to" as discussed here:

: : http://www.phrases.org.uk/bulletin_board/14/messages/172.html

: : As in, for example, "I don't cotton to that," usually meaning "I don't like that", I think it is actually an African American slave reference to an abridged saying of, "I don't PICK cotton to that." Which is a reference to the slave songs sung during work. I don't have any proof or references, but I think it logically makes sense. Does anyone have any information about this supposition?

: Such information as I have suggests that the phrase is not related to African-Americans in the collon fields. From the 17th century on, cotton was used as a verb with various prepositions to indicate getting along with some other party. The OXford English Dictionary rarely tries to explain the connection between secondary uses and the primary meaning, but it's goof for dated examples.

: From the OED: "6. To agree, to fraternize. Const. together, with, rarely in. cotton up: to make friendly advances, 'make up' to, strike up a friendship.
: 1648 Mercurius Elencticus 26 Jan. (Thomasson Tracts Brit. Mus. CCCXLVII. No. 25. 64) Unless Harry Marten and he cotten again, and make a powerful intercession for him. 1668 SHADWELL Sullen Lovers IV, O rare! how we shall cotten together, as the saying is! 1695 CONGREVE Love for L. III. v, I love to see 'em hug and cotten together, like Down upon a Thistle. 1766 T. AMORY Buncle III. 79 He pledged me and cottoned in a very diverting way. 1822 SCOTT Nigel ii, Didst see..how the old goldsmith cottoned in with his beggarly countryman? 1835 Fraser's Mag. XI. 142 Gradually all cottoned together, and plunged into conversation. 1864 Derby Day 152 (Farmer) You stop here and cotton up to the gipsies. 1886 HUGH CONWAY Living or Dead xiv, 'Then you cottoned up'? suggested Valentine. 'Not a bit of it', said Vigor, 'He began to patronize me'.

: 7. To 'take' to, attach oneself to; to become drawn or attached to.
: 1805 KNOX & JEBB Corr. xxii. 164, I did not thoroughly cotton to your intended course of reading. 1840 DICKENS Old C. Shop xxxvii, 'I don't object to Short,' she says, 'but I cotton to Codlin'. 1874 TROLLOPE Lady Anna xviii. 138 You see, she had nobody else near her. A girl must cotton to somebody, and who was there? 1881 MRS. C. PRAED Policy & P. II. xii. 214, I object to you personally. I have never cottoned to you from the moment I set eyes upon you."

: As you can see, most of these examples are British, and there's no hint of cotton fields here.
: SS


"Cotton", in middle and early modern English was used to describe a wide variety of soft, fluffy, easily-snaggable yarns. Thus, to "cotton to" someone or something was to catch and stick on, as cotton wool or a piece of fluff might do. (VSD)