Cotton is nigh

The verb in this sentence from a 1A story today delights me: But newer neighbors do not cotton to Williams’ squirrel hunts.

That verb “cotton” is informal but just perfect for the tone of Josh Shaffer’s story about a Raleigh man who has a permit to shoot squirrels. “Cotton” means to take a liking to or to understand.

I wondered how the word “cotton” came to mean this. Before I looked it up, I speculated that the usage grew from the qualities of the plant cotton: soft, yielding, clinging to the stem. Indeed, according to Webster’s New World Dictionary, Fourth College Edition, and the Word Detective site, it appears that is exactly how “cotton” came to mean to take a liking to or to get along with. Cotton fibers are easy to work with and could be woven into other fabrics, such as wool, the Word Detective notes.

Apparently, this usage is fairly old, too — probably from the 17th century. And, though it sounds like a Southernism, the verb “cotton” is also used in Britain, according to the dictionary.

“Nigh” means near, by the way. It’s considered dialect these days, but it has a lovely poetic sound, doesn’t it?

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.