June 09, 2017
cotton (verb)
\KAH-tun\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
1 : to take a liking2 : to come to understand
How do you use it?
"‘We can all go,' said Hermione pointedly. ‘Oh,' said Ron, cottoning on. ‘Right.'" (J. K. Rowling, _Harry Potter and the Goblet of Power_)
Are you a word wiz?

You might be more familiar with the noun "cotton," meaning a kind of fabric or the plant used to make the fabric. What do you think was happening when "cotton" came into English as a verb?

Back in the 15th century, when armored knights still clanked about castles, the noun "cotton" donned a new hat, becoming a verb. Its earliest meaning was "to form a nap on cloth." We don't use that meaning anymore, but modern-day use might have spun from it. Hatmakers preferred cloth with a nap, or downy surface. When the hat materials came together nicely, they would say it "cottoned well." This might be the source of the expression "to cotton well," meaning "to get along together, to agree," which evolved into "take a liking to." The "understand" sense is much newer, dating from the early 20th century.
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