See more synonyms for cotton on
  1. a soft, white, downy substance consisting of the hairs or fibers attached to the seeds of plants belonging to the genus Gossypium, of the mallow family, used in making fabrics, thread, wadding, etc.
  2. the plant itself, having spreading branches and broad, lobed leaves.
  3. such plants collectively as a cultivated crop.
  4. cloth, thread, a garment, etc., of cotton.
  5. any soft, downy substance resembling cotton, but growing on other plants.
verb (used without object)
  1. Informal. to get on well together; agree.
  2. Obsolete. to prosper or succeed.
Verb Phrases
  1. cotton (on) to, Informal.
    1. to become fond of; begin to like.
    2. to approve of; agree with: to cotton to a suggestion.
    3. to come to a full understanding of; grasp: More and more firms are cottoning on to the advantages of using computers.

Origin of cotton

1250–1300; Middle English coton < Old French < Old Italian cotone < Arabic qutun, variant of qutn
Related formshalf-cot·ton, adjectivesem·i·cot·ton, nounun·cot·toned, adjective


  1. John,1584–1652, U.S. clergyman, colonist, and author (grandfather of Cotton Mather). Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for cotton

grasp, get, comprehend

Examples from the Web for cotton

Contemporary Examples of cotton

Historical Examples of cotton

  • Two of us were going in company, each with a load of cotton.

    Biography of a Slave

    Charles Thompson

  • The cotton was thrown overboard as fast as we could, and what the men could not start the seas did.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • Here I quarrelled with the captain about some cotton wick, and I threw up my situation.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • We got to the latter port without accident, and took in a cargo of cotton.

    Ned Myers

    James Fenimore Cooper

  • There is no account of indigo, and the cultivation of cotton had not commenced.

British Dictionary definitions for cotton


  1. any of various herbaceous plants and shrubs of the malvaceous genus Gossypium, such as sea-island cotton, cultivated in warm climates for the fibre surrounding the seeds and the oil within the seedsSee also sea-island cotton
  2. the soft white downy fibre of these plants: used to manufacture textiles
  3. cotton plants collectively, as a cultivated crop
    1. a cloth or thread made from cotton fibres
    2. (as modifier)a cotton dress
  4. any substance, such as kapok (silk cotton), resembling cotton but obtained from other plants
Derived Formscottony, adjective

Word Origin for cotton

C14: from Old French coton, from Arabic dialect qutun, from Arabic qutn


  1. Sir Henry. 1907–87, English golfer: three times winner of the British Open (1934, 1937, 1948)
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for cotton

late 13c., from Old French coton (12c.), ultimately (via Provençal, Italian, or Old Spanish) from Arabic qutn, a word perhaps of Egyptian origin. Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden sent the first cotton seeds to American colony of Georgia in 1732. Also ultimately from the Arabic word, Dutch katoen, German Kattun, Provençal coton, Italian cotone, Spanish algodon, Portuguese algodão. Cotton gin is recorded from 1794 (see gin (n.2)).


"to get on with" someone (usually with to), 1560s, perhaps from Welsh cytuno "consent, agree." But perhaps also a metaphor from cloth finishing and thus from cotton (n.). Related: Cottoned; cottoning.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper