“Where does cotton come from?” is a question replete with political and economic implications. From a botanical perspective, species of the shrub are endemic to tropical and subtropical regions around the world, and cotton’s domestication – it is one of the earliest domesticated non-food crops – occurred independently in different locations in both the Old and New Worlds, earliest perhaps in the Indus River Valley, in Pakistan, as well as Egypt’s Nile Valley, in about 3,000BC. Fifth-century BC Greek historian Herodotus described Indian cotton as “a wool exceeding in beauty and goodness than that of sheep”; Greek military commander and philosopher Arrian’s AD130 writings mention the India-Arab cotton fabric trade. But unlike “calico” and “dungaree”, it was not a word from South Asia that got adopted into English. In the late AD600s, cotton production spread west from the Arab-Muslim empires, to the Iberian Peninsula, with cotton weaving knowledge brought to northern Italy in the 12th century after the Norman conquest of Sicily, and then to the rest of Europe. Etymologically, thus, it was the Arabic quṭn/quṭun , as qoṭon in its regional variant Spanish-Arabic, that gave the Romance languages the word – the Old Spanish coton , Portuguese cotão , Italian cotone , Provençal coton and French coton – thence entering Middle English as coton / cotoun . Meanwhile, the Arabic word with prefixed article al “the”, al-quṭn , via the Spanish-Arabic al-quṭūn , became the Spanish alcoton / algodon “cotton”, and subsequently, via Old French and Anglo-Norman, the English acton, a now-historical term for a protective jacket worn under armour. With cotton a major industry in Britain and the United States, several verb phrases with cotton developed in English, stemming from practices such as the use of mixtures of cotton with other fibres, or the disposition of cotton to adhere. “To cotton together” or “cotton with”, common from the 17th to 19th centuries, meant to get on with, agree, or work harmoniously. “To cotton to”, from the 19th century, meant to be drawn or attached to; this in the early 1900s became “cotton on to”, which in the 1920s came to mean to catch on, understand. “Cotton-picking” originated in the US in the 1700s; this evolved in the 1940s, especially in the southern states, into an adjective denoting disapproval – popularised in a 1950s Bugs Bunny cartoon – and nowadays considered to carry racist connotations in reference to African slaves on cotton plantations. The association of forced labour with cotton’s origins continues to warrant such evaluation, in word and in deed.