Saturday, May 01, 2010

Cotton-pickin'


Jeff asked about the adjective cotton-pickin’, as in Are you out of your cotton-pickin’ mind or Keep your cotton-pickin’ hands offa me!

Memory tells me that it was more common in the 50s and 60s than it is now, and that’s confirmed by sources such as the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang.

Cotton picking, associated with slavery, was a back-breaking, finger-mutilating task, but I think worrying over that connection is fruitless in this case. Rather, what we have here is a euphemistic intensifier. It has companions such as Are you out of your mother-lovin’ mind?

Such intensifiers often start out as obscene adjectives with shock value, such as out of your G-D mind, your M-F mind, or your C-S mind. (Home schoolers read this blog, so adults can figure things out for themselves).

What made the adjective cotton-pickin’ so widespread at one time was the movie cartoon, especially Looney Tunes. Bugs Bunny was fond of the usage. Towards the beginning of the 20th century, it was used to designate a contemptible person, but it softened as the decades rolled by.


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