Benjamin Zimmer bgzimmer at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU
Mon Jul 6 21:24:14 UTC 2009

On Mon, Jul 6, 2009 at 3:37 PM, Joel S. Berson <Berson at> wrote:
> I have seen the fortune-teller, at some unknown time in the past, but
> not called a "cootie-catcher".  I note that Wikipedia claims that as
> an alternate name, but does not explain it.  There is only the one
> reference, 'In The Simpsons episode "Tennis the Menace", Homer uses a
> cootie catcher to test if he has cooties. He then exclaims "wow this
> self-testing kit has saved me a fortune!"'

An earlier version of the Wikipedia article for "cooties" had more on
the canonical cootie-catcher:

Made of folded paper, the "cootie catcher" is one name for a popular
hand held toy among school children. One surface is blank, the other
drawn with dots. The joke is to show the blank side, then run the toy
through someone's hair, revealing the dotted surface. It is made so
each surface looks the same apart from the "cooties". The toy is also
also called a "fortune teller" and used in play to tell fortunes.

This fits my childhood memories (New Jersey in the late '70s / early
'80s). These were two distinct devices (though sharing the same
origami construction) -- it's unfortunate if they've been conflated to
the extent that "cootie-catcher" could be considered simply an
"alternate name" for a fortune-teller.

--Ben Zimmer

The American Dialect Society -

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