Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Sun Jul 5 13:03:33 UTC 2009

At 7/4/2009 10:08 PM, Laurence Horn wrote:
>Seems like most dictionaries, at least the online ones, do gloss it
>as 'body louse'.  When I was growing up, cooties were always in the
>plural, they were invisible, and they were things one accused another
>of having or giving.  I think I assumed they were distinct from lice,
>which were real, and from other actual critters.  Hard to recall,

In my elementary school (or was it junior high school) days, there
was a prank.  One (that is, others) constructed a square piece of
paper so that the face had four triangular flaps (imagine an X
inscribed in a square).  These flaps were operated from the reverse
side by four fingers such that a pair of flaps on opposite sides
could be opened simultaneously, displaying the surface of paper
beneath them.  The surface of the paper below one pair of flaps was
left blank; on the other pair of surfaces were drawn small, repulsive
mites.  The Other said to one, "I need to check for cooties",
displayed the two unmarked surfaces, put the device against one's
head with a grasping motion, took it off, and displayed the other two surfaces.

 From that moment forth (or perhaps even earlier), I always
associated cooties with the head.  (Although ringworm was the
condition for which schoolchildren were sent home in my day.)


The American Dialect Society -

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