late 13c., "white fibrous substance containing the seeds of the cotton plant," from Old French coton (12c.), ultimately (via Provenal, Italian, or Old Spanish) from Arabic qutn, a word perhaps of Egyptian origin. Also ultimately from the Arabic word are Dutch katoen, German Kattun, Provenal coton, Italian cotone, Spanish algodon, Portuguese algodo.
As "cloth made of cotton," from early 15c. Meaning "the cotton plant" is from c. 1400. As an adjective, "made of cotton," from 1550s. Cotton gin is recorded from 1794 (see gin (n.2)). Philip Miller of the Chelsea Physic Garden sent the first cotton seeds to American colony of Georgia in 1732.
1560s, "to prosper, succeed;" of things, "to agree, suit, fit," a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps from Welsh cytuno "consent, agree;" but perhaps rather a metaphor from cloth-finishing and thus from cotton (n.). Hensleigh Wedgwood compares cot "a fleece of wool matted together." Meaning "become closely or intimately associated (with)," is from 1805 via the sense of "to get along together" (of persons), attested from c. 1600. Related: Cottoned; cottoning.
"planters, merchants, and manufacturers anywhere who control the cotton trade," as a political ruling force, 1845; see cotton (n.) + -cracy. Bartlett's 1859 edition has "COTTONOCRACY - A term applied to the Boston manufacturers, especially by the 'Boston Whig' newspaper." Specifically of the cotton states of the southern U.S. from 1863.
as a deprecatory term first recorded in a Bugs Bunny cartoon, but a similar noun cotton-picker meaning "contemptible person" dates to around 1919, perhaps with racist overtones that have faded over the years. Before mechanization, cotton picking was the most difficult labor on a plantation.
I drove out to a number of the farms near Denison and found many very young white children working all day in the hot sun picking and dragging sacks of cotton. In one field the labor corps consisted of one woman and six children, one of them 5 years, one 6 years, one 7 years, one 9 years, and two about 11. The father was plowing. The 5 and 6 year olds worked all day as did the rest. The 7-year-old said he picked 50 pounds a day and the 9 year old 75 pounds. (A good picker averages several hundred a day.) School begins late on account of the cotton picking, but the children nearly all prefer school to the picking. Picking hours are long, hot, and deadly monotonous. While the very young children seem to enjoy it, very soon their distaste for it grows into all-absorbing hatred for all work. ["Field Notes of Lewis W. Hine, Child-Labor Conditions in Texas," report to U.S. Congressional Commission on Industrial Relations, 1916]
c. 1700, "pertaining to or founded by antiquarian Sir Robert Bruce Cotton (1570-1631), especially in reference to the library in the British Museum, named for him. He donated some books to the state and his grandson donated the rest. It was badly damaged in a fire in 1731. The surname represents Old English cotum, plural of cot "cottage."
1570s, "cotton padding," corrupted from earlier bombace "raw cotton" (1550s), from Old French bombace "cotton, cotton wadding," from Late Latin bombacem, accusative of bombax "cotton, 'linteorum aut aliae quaevis quisquiliae,' " a corruption and transferred use of Latin bombyx "silk," from Greek bombyx "silk, silkworm" (which also came to mean "cotton" in Medieval Greek), from some oriental word, perhaps related to Iranian pambak (modern panba) or Armenian bambok, perhaps ultimately from a PIE root meaning "to twist, wind."
Also from the same source are Swedish bomull, Danish bomuld "cotton," and, via Turkish forms, Modern Greek mpampaki, Rumanian bumbac, Serbo-Croatian pamuk. German baumwolle "cotton" probably is from the Latin word but altered by folk-etymology to look like "tree wool." Polish bawełna, Lithuanian bovelna are partial translations from German.
From stuffing and padding for clothes or upholstery, meaning extended to "pompous, empty speech" (1580s).
Bombast was originally applied to a stuff of soft, loose texture, once used to swell the garment. Fustian was also a kind of cloth of stiff expansive character. These terms are applied to a high, swelling style of writing, full of extravagant sentiments and expressions. Bathos is a word which has the same application, meaning generally the mock heroic—that "depth" into which one falls who overleaps the sublime; the step which one makes in order to pass from the sublime to the ridiculous. [James de Mille, "Elements of Rhetoric," 1878]