Cotton (verb)

Posted by Word Camel on August 14, 2002

In Reply to: Cotton (verb) posted by TheFallen 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.

: You learn something new every day on this board. There I was, reading the previous two posts and wondering what the Heck they were talking about, till a dash to my dictionary fortunately revealed that "to cotton to something" is a US expression apparently meaning to begin to like something. I'm pretty sure that this usage is totally unknown in the UK.

: Speaking of cotton as a verb, does the US have the expression "to cotton on (to something)", meaning to realise or come to understand, which is prevalent in the UK?

I may have lost all perspective, but I think "Cotton on to" is used in the US". I wonder if it refers to the tendency for raw cotton and cotton fibers to cling to things? I could see how the express could have arisen both in growing cotton and milling it.