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Cooties

Cooties is a word that has evolved from describing a very real problem to something that is imaginary. We will look at the early and later definitions of the word cooties, the possible origin of this term and some examples of its use in sentences.

Originally, the word cooties referred to body lice. The word cooties came into general usage during World War I, due to the infestations of body lice that plagued the trenches. There are two theories as to the origin of the term cooties. Some believe it comes from the Malay word kutu, which describes a local biting insect. In this scenario, the term cooties would have traveled to Europe by way of American soldiers who had been stationed in the Philippines. Others believe it comes from the Scottish word cootie, which describes fowl with feathered legs and presumably, lice. The singular form may be spelled as cootie or cooty, though the singular form is rarely seen.


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In the United States, the word cooties is used by schoolchildren to describe fictional “germs” that infest designated children. Usually, children divide upon gender lines, boys insisting that girls carry cooties and girls insisting that boys carry cooties. This usually leads to games of tag. If a child is tagged by the opposite gender he may be redeemed through the use of a cootie shot to inoculate him against the non-existent cooties.

Examples

Maybe they’re afraid they’ll get cooties, but this is high school so I doubt it’s that—but it sure feels that way. (Harper’s Bazaar Magazine)

O’Connell says that it’s “well-known, documented scientific fact” that females carry the Cooties gene, and that even thinking about one can result in a person “catching it.” (The Huffington Post)

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