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Over the course of my life, I heard people use the term "cotton industry" to derogatorily refer to a group of people that make money based on something more successful. For example:

On YouTube, an entire cotton industry has sprung up around criticizing alleged "plot holes" in movies, raking in many millions of views and ad-revenue.

While writing something, I decided to double-check the expression, yet after spending some time doing extensive Google-fu, I could only find references to the history of literal cotton manufactories.

English is not my first language, and I've never actually seen the term written down and only heard people say it, and as such I'm coming to the conclusion that I might be dealing with a "damp squid" here.

Did I always mishear the term, or is it simply that I couldn't find the term? And alternatively, what would be a proper alternative term commonly used to describe this "making money of something more successful" situation ("parasites" is too dehumanizing and loaded)?

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    It's a misprint / malapropism / eggcorn - should be cottage industry. And things that "underperform" are damp squibs (fireworks that don't ignite properly), not squid (marine molluscs, who live in water, so obviously they're always wet! :) – FumbleFingers Mar 31 at 12:59
  • FumbleFingers - "should be cottage industry" Yes. Definitely. They "spring up". – Michael Harvey Mar 31 at 13:01
  • FumbleFingers - The "damp squid" was a purposeful joke, that said I didn't know of the term eggcorn or malapropism. Also, thanks for pointing to the correct term of "cottage industry". Reading the proper term made me realise the massive brain cramp I had and why "cotton" felt so very off. – Araxiel Apr 1 at 14:10
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It sounds like an eggcorn for cottage industry. Oxford English Dictionary, "cottage industry, n.":

  1. In extended use. Any specialized enterprise or activity conducted on a small scale or in a loosely organized or unofficial way, either for profit or (now often depreciative) in pursuit of a particular group's own interests or concerns.

Merriam-Webster is more expansive:

1 : an industry whose labor force consists of family units or individuals working at home with their own equipment

2 : a small and often informally organized industry

3 : a limited but enthusiastically pursued activity or subject

You can see the difference if you search for news articles with the two terms. The "cotton industry" results tend to involve the literal cotton industry. The "cottage industry" usually involves describing informal or small-scale industries that might be done in the cottage, that is, at home.

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