[Ads-l] cotton-pickin(g)

James Eric Lawson jel at NVENTURE.COM
Thu Apr 15 06:09:23 UTC 2021

Green's Dictionary of Slang distinguishes the adjective 'cotton-picking'
used as a general term from the adjective used as a euphemism for
'damned', and attests the former from 1853, the latter from 1953. OED
online lumps those two adjectival slang senses together and attests the
result from 1958. The entry for 'cotton-picking' in the 1994 edition of
HDAS (the most recent edition I can borrow online) may differ from the
more recent 2009 edition (which is the most recent edition of HDAS
listed in WorldCat), but doesn't make the distinction found in GDoS,
following OED instead, with an earlier, 1952, attestation from *Looney

GDos (click the paradigm icon next to the sense definition to see the


OED online (paywalled; latest version of the entry published Sep 2019):


HDAS 1994:



The 05 Dec 1843 issue of _The Phalanx or Journal of Social Science_ (New
York) contains two closely tied uses that seem to me to represent the
transition between literal and slang senses of the adjective. That is,
the uses contrast 'freeman' and 'cotton-picking slave', employing the
latter with the clear intention of not only disparaging (if that's
possible) slavery, but intensifying the disparagement with the chosen

“Gumbo,” says his master, "my brother George has proposed to me to make
a *freeman* of you, and says, if you are so disposed, as you are now in
a land of liberty; you can stay here and learn the business of digging
coal or melting iron along with these other *freemen*, and be no longer
a *cotton-picking slave*--how would you like it? ...".


Gumbo too has the choice presented of becoming a "*freeman*" or
remaining a "*cotton-picking slave*"....
<title>The Phalanx or Journal of Social Science
<place>New York
<articletitle>George and John Evans
<subtitle>A Story on Slavery

On 4/14/21 7:10 PM, Pete Morris wrote:
> What is currently known about the origin of Cotton-pickin(g) as a term?
> Etymology Online says:
> https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=cotton-picking
> 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've seen the Bugs Bunny claim all over the internet. The specific
> cartoon isn't identified.
> But I've found two examples from 20+ years before Bugs. Is this an
> antedating?
> --------------------------------
> https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt/search?q1=%22cotton-pickin+chicken+stealer%22&id=inu.32000000494254&view=1up&seq=508&num=26
> "You cotton-pickin chicken stealer " he howls.
> Short story : Cutey and The Beast
> The American Magazine
> May 1917
> ------------------------------
> https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt/search?q1=%22You+cotton-pickin%27%2C+stump-jumpin%27%2C+ridge-runnin%27%2C+moon-+shiner%22&id=uc1.ax0003459823&view=1up&seq=9
> "You cotton-pickin', stump-jumpin', ridge-runnin', moon- shiner"
> Article: Hoo's Hoo Column and Hoo said it.
> History of Company A : 307th Engineer Regiment.
> 1919

James Eric Lawson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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