Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Mon Jul 6 23:38:18 UTC 2009

Laurence Horn wrote:
> At 10:45 AM -0400 7/6/09, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
>> I can picture the "device," but IIRC in my Manhattan elementary school it
>> was used to offer advice and tell fortunes, not to catch "cooties" in any
>> sense of the word.  Possibly it was called a "Chinese fortune cookie,"
>> which
>> it resembled in shape. But that may simply be my imagination playing
>> cruel
>> tricks on all of us.
>> The seven-year old spirit medium would inscribe a pair of messages on the
>> inside, which would appear alternately as his (usually her) fingertips
>> opened and closed the folded
>> paper.
>> The supplicant would call an odd or even number and the medium would open
>> and close the mystical folds accordingly, then reveal the visible
>> message.
>> "Yes" or "No" questions worked best. In theory the device could direct
>> all
>> of your future actions, so it was important to use a medium you could
>> trust.
>> JL
> Yes, that sounds right to me as well, and there was a chant that
> accompanied the manipulation of the device.  It would also tell you
> your (or whoever's) favorite color and other such information.
> Fortunes were part of it, but not cooties.  If they were (sometimes?)
> called "cootie catchers" (Jon's "fortune cookies" does ring a distant
> bell) I probably processed it as an opaque label, and certainly
> didn't make any connection with lice.  As I mentioned earlier, I
> never thought of a cootie in the singular; cooties in the plural were
> as abstract as the willies or the creeps.  IIRC.

I think we called them "fortune tellers". And there was definitely a
chant. At the end of the chant, we used the corners of the device to
pinch the person whose fortune was being told. (In retrospect, this
pinching might reflect the "cootie catcher" origin, and I do, in fact,
have a vague notion that I knew "cootie catcher" as an alternative name.)
Alice Faber                                       faber at
Haskins Laboratories                            tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                               fax (203) 865-8963

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