What Does Wait a Cotton Picking Minute Mean?

Wait a Cotton Picking Minute Meaning

Definition: Wait a gosh darn minute!

Origin of Cotton Picking Minute

Cotton-picking in this expression is a euphemism for a swear word, and it adds emphasis. People sometimes use this term in other cases, like keep your cotton-picking hands off of that. They use it when they want to use stronger language, but don’t want to use swear words. It usually stands in for the word damn.

Another use of cotton is keep your cotton picking hands off of me.

These phrases make more sense if you know a little about harvesting cotton. Picking cotton is a harsh, difficult task that leaves someone’s hands rough and calloused. Before the cotton gin or other mechanized approaches, this was done completely by hand, which left the workers hand extremely rough.

And it’s not a surprise that this expression originated in the Southern United States, where the cotton industry was, and still is, a major industry. In 19th-century America, cotton was picked by African-American slaves, so the phrase cotton picking minute can be construed to have some racial overtones, although this is rarely, if ever, its meaning when the phrase is used. In most cases, it’s use is intended to be benign. How it might be received is another story.

Early sources show the adjective cotton picking being used to refer to anyone who picked cotton, not just black slaves. It was a reference to the difficulty of the job, not the worker. These sources date back to first European cotton plantations in the 1700s, and while the phrase is benign in most instances, still proceed with caution when using it.

The term cottonpicker, however, is a 19th century racist term.

Examples of Cotton Picking Minute

what is a cotton picking minuteIn this example, two friends are discussing what to do tonight.

Cassie: Hey! There’s a party at Brad’s house tonight. Let’s go together!

Rebecca: I’d like to go, but this house is just too dirty. I really think it should be clean before we go out.

Cassie: Yeah, thanks for offering to clean it. Have fun cleaning the house! I’ll see you after I get back from the party!

Rebecca: Now wait a cotton picking minute! I’ve tried to be polite and subtle about this, but you are just too dense to understand.

Cassie: What are you talking about?

Rebecca: I’ve been hinting to you for days that I’d like you to clean up your mess that you left in the kitchen, and now you’re just going to go out and enjoy yourself and leave me to clean up after you!

Cassie: I’m sorry! I didn’t realize it was such a big deal. We’ll clean it together and then go to the party together.

Rebecca: Thank you. That’s all that I wanted.

how long is a cotton picking minuteIn the dialogue below, two men are arguing over who has the better soccer team.

Antonio: No offense, but your team is terrible!

Igor: Wait a cotton picking minute! I won’t stand to hear you say such awful things about my team! Anyway, my team is much better than yours!

More Examples

This excerpt is about one politician using this expression while talking about another politician. Some people called the expression offensive.

  • In denouncing Stephen Harper the previous day, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff had used the term “now wait a cotton-picking minute.” –National Post

This is a Twitter quote in the article. The person is expressing shock about a confusing story line on a soap opera.

  • Wait a cotton picking minute! Who’s going to watch the Walford Christmas Play if practically everyone is in it?! –The Sun


The expression what a cotton picking minute means Hold on for a damn moment! It shows anger or other strong feelings, and cotton picking is a substitute for stronger curse words. It may have racist connotations for some.