There is a 1953 animated Bugs Bunny cartoon where the titular protagonist exclaims "just a cotton-pickin' minute, this don't look like the Coachella Valley to me!" That's the first time the term cotton-picking was used in its modern context (as basically a synonym of damn), and it was soon picked by some speakers in the American south to just be a general expression of disapproval. However, cotton-picking very likely has racist undertones, as it is thought to trace back to the noun cotton-picker, which was first recorded in 1919 and meant "a contemptible person" - obviously a blatant slur against African American sharecroppers. In modern times, there's been a lot of controversy over the word, with former Canadian Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, sportscaster Brian Davis, and others coming under fire for using it in the last decade. Thankfully, Google NGrams and Trends both show usage going down significantly, so maybe that linguistic chapter is behind us.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.