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See more synonyms for cotton on Thesaurus.com
  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.
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verb (used without object)
  1. Informal. to get on well together; agree.
  2. Obsolete. to prosper or succeed.
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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.
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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
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Related Words for cotton to

adaptable, consistent, suitable, appropriate, advise, patronize, enjoy, crave, covet, love, like, savor, appreciate, relish, champion, support, advocate, back, accept, encourage

British Dictionary definitions for cotton to

cotton to

verb (intr, preposition) US and Canadian informal
  1. to become friendly with
  2. to approve of
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  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
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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)
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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 to



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)).

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"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.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

cotton to in Culture

cotton to

To take a liking to someone or something: “I was afraid Janet wouldn't like my brother, but she cottoned to him immediately.”

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with cotton to

cotton to


Take a liking to, get along with, as in This dog doesn't cotton to strangers. Although this verbal phrase comes from the noun for the fabric, the semantic connection between these parts of speech is unclear. [Early 1800s]

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Also, cotton on to. Come to understand, grasp, as in She didn't really cotton on to what I was saying. [Colloquial; early 1900s]

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.