How old is cotton? I recently ran across this question that piqued my curiosity. Personally, having grown up in rural Louisiana, I was around cotton my entire life. But I knew there was more to the story than that.
While searching around the Internet, I found “The Story of Cotton” on the National Cotton Council’s website. According to an excerpt from this source, “No one knows exactly how old cotton is. Scientists searching caves in Mexico found bits of cotton bolls and pieces of cotton cloth that proved to be at least 7,000 years old. They also found that the cotton itself was much like that grown in America today.”
In November, Alabama cotton specialist Steve M. Brown published an item in the Alabama Cotton Shorts that caught my attention as well. He said, “A recent cotton marketing newsletter used the term ‘black swan’ referring to potential unforeseen influences that produce significant-to-catastrophic effects in the market. I was unfamiliar with the term (as was I) and found the following on Investopedia.com.”
A black swan is an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterized by their extreme rarity, severe impact and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight.
It was satisfying to know if I heard the term “black swan” used in the context of cotton marketing in the future, I would be aware of what it meant.
Because one thing often leads to another, and I was clearly becoming obsessed with cotton trivia, I wanted to explore the figurative meaning of “walking in high cotton.” To gather insight about this idiom, I called my friend Mr. Ray Young, a crop consultant in Wisner, Louisiana, who has walked many a cotton field through the years. “In looking back, everything was gauged by how the cotton was doing,” he said. “In literal terms, high cotton was not always the best cotton, but figuratively it meant if you were walking in high cotton, you were getting along just as well as you would ever get along.”
While we were visiting, Ray’s son Jesse pulled up some information on his phone from grammarist.com. It said, “The idioms (in tall cotton or high cotton) became widely popular when Red Barber used them in the mid-twentieth century. Red Barber was a baseball announcer from Mississippi who was famous for using colorful idioms like walking in tall cotton, tearing up the pea patch and slicker than boiled okra.”
Although trivia is thought to be — by definition — of little importance or value — I believe it is entertaining. With that said, I hope everyone is walking in high cotton this season — figuratively speaking, of course.