Wrapped in Cotton

This post was supposed to be about something, instead, it’s about another. I was going to write up how to do anthologies, as with a few under my belt in the last couple of years, I could do that. Instead, I want to talk about cotton wool. If you’d like to hear a panel discussion on anthologies, by three Indie publishers, slide on over to the Old NFO channel on Thursday Sept 8 at 3 pm central time.

Now, onto the wool. I mean the stuff between my ears today. It’s been a challenging couple of days, and frankly at this time I’d hoped to have been on the road to see friends and pick up some bookshelves. However, the truck is kicking up a fuss, so that’s been postponed. And…

And did you know that cotton plants have pretty flowers?

Cotton Flower (Photo from Flickr, by Carol von Canon)

The area I live in, North Texas, has many cotton fields, and they continue up into southern Oklahoma, too. It took me a little while to identify what that crop was, having only seen the fields as I zipped past at a high rate of speed, but it shouldn’t have surprised me too much – cotton is a good commodity crop, it just doesn’t grow as far north as I have spent most of my life.

Cotton Field near Hess, OK (photo by Cedar Sanderson)

So why cotton wool? Why not wool, when we talk about that fuzzy feeling you get after being very tired, consuming an adult beverage, sleeping hard, and waking up earlier than you wanted to? And how about the phrase wool-gathering? Which has fallen out of use, I know, due to the origin being obscured through breeding wool sheep that don’t shed. Yes, sheep used to shed (and some still do) and wool-gathering was indeed a thing, wandering around picking the tufts off bushes where the itchy sheep, hot in their heavy winter coats, had scratched it off. This was a job tended to by children or the simple-minded, and that’s the origin of a term intended to indicate the wandering mind was off somewhere, not attending to the task at hand.

Cotton wool has a different feel to it. Wool can be soft, or coarse, depending on the breed of sheep and other variables. Wool is usually unctuous with lanolin, and if you handle it, your hands will be soft and supple. Cotton on the other hand imparts no oils, the fibers are consistent, and the tiny strands will catch the skin cells on the outer layer of your epidermis, giving it that characteristic almost harsh feel of microfibers tugging against your skin when you handle raw cotton (good cotton balls should be made of this, for a modern comparison). A head full of cotton wool isn’t really a comfortable place to be.

My son and I had a conversation yesterday about slang. He’s 17, and wouldn’t use (or possibly even understand) either of the phrases I started out with. The discussion began over my asking him about his sister’s comment on a photo I’d put in the family Discord (ironic – the word that means conflict is how we keep in touch and connect with silly memes and sometimes Dad Mom jokes).

“What does pog mean, anyway?”

“It’s complicated. It’s a reference from a video game that references a game from the nineties…”

“Wait, it really did refer to pogs? The little round playing pieces made out of cardboard? I didn’t think it did, you kids never even saw those!”

“Sort of?”

So my daughter’s short, approving comment on a photo I’d shared of the Boy taking me to Dunks (Dunkin’ Donuts, for those not conversant in New Englander), led to my explaining fluffy yeet cows to him, and the two of us talking about how slang terms crop up, sometimes make it into the popular lexicon, and sometimes just fade back into obscurity. Language does that. Since he’s still feeling his way in the world, that conversation also morphed to a point where I explained to him the origins and etymology of the word fascism. Complete with ancient Roman history through Mussolini to a certain unfortunate speech in the last week. Despite the media efforts to twist the word into the boogeyman they want it to be, it means… well, pretty much the opposite of what they want to use it for. I’m glad my kid is willing to listen and weigh the history against the present. Sadly, I know that most are willing to be ignorant. Happy to be.

Ahem. Stepping off the soap box now. I swear, that thing just sneaks up on you and suddenly there’s a small scuffle of little feet and pop! It’s right under you and you’ve veered off onto a passionate tangent while it bounces slightly in excitement.

Anyhow, I’m going to go drink more coffee to dissolve the cotton wool and then spread some mulch on my new garden before taking the laptop on the port to write some… checks deadlines… alchemists with ghost cats on Malta.

(Header image: Potager Garden by Cedar Sanderson)

15 comments

  1. I highly recommend that if one is nearby you try Krispy Kreme as an alternative to Dunks.
    Better coffee and their doughnuts are made fresh right in front of your eyes instead of mass produced the night before.
    Full disclosure, oldest son is a manager at the local KK so some slight bias might be present.

    1. We don’t have one here in TX. This was sheer nostalgia for the Boy (and he was buying). We do have Shipley’s Do-nuts local, which are pretty good and made very fresh.

        1. Austin and San Antonio also have KK. Of course, that’s probably even further from Cedar’s location.

        2. There was a K.K. up here. Then one of the chains of convenience stores made the error of saying that they were buying KK instead of the local (Donut Stop) “because they keep on the shelf two days before they stop tasting fresh.” That didn’t go over well, and people just bought straight from D.S. instead of from the convenience store. K.K. disappeared not long after.

          Oops.

    2. KK’s doughnuts are way to sweet for me, like they added a bit of dough to sugar. When the first KK opened in the SF Bay area in Union City, some one snapped an amazing picture of the Union City Police loading up a truck with KK doughnuts!

    3. My favorite “field trip” with teh kids was the Krispy Kreme so we could look at the robots making donuts. 😀

      (For those not familiar, it’s a giant conveyor belt, it’s brilliant.)

  2. The folklore specialist Timothy Tangherlini has some articles about how political folklore and legend spreads and grows the same way other forms of folk-lore developed and spread. Slang I suspect is similar, although argot and cant serve a different purpose [to exclude outsiders and conceal intent, or to show insider status.] At RedQuarters we toss around terms like “robination” or “bedoveled” to describe what happens at the bird bath or bird feeders. A dove “has experienced the raptor.” [Play on words more than slang.]

    Things that change. When I teach about the Enlightenment in history, I have to show pictures of the inside of a mechanical clock and pocket watch, because the younger people have *no* idea what “watchmaker G-d” means otherwise. Watches are digital or smart-watches, not things with gears and hands.

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