Cooties is, in American childlore, a kind of infectious disease. The term may have originated with references to lice, fleas, and other parasites. A child is said to "catch" cooties through any form of bodily contact, proximity, or touching of an "infected" person or from a person of the opposite sex of the same age. Often the "infected" person is someone who is perceived as "different" and bears some kind of social stigma: of the opposite sex, disabled, someone who is shy or withdrawn, someone who has peculiar mannerisms, etc. The phrase is most commonly used by children aged 4–10; however, it is also used by many others older than 10.[1]



The earliest known recorded uses of cooties in English date back to the First World War. It appeared in a 1917 service dictionary.[2] Albert Depew's World War I memoir, Gunner Depew (1918), includes: "Of course you know what the word "cooties" means ... When you get near the trenches you get a course in the natural history of bugs, lice, rats and every kind of pest that had ever been invented."[3] Similarly, Lieut. Pat O'Brien's memoir published March 1918, Outwitting the Hun: My Escape from a German Prison Camp refers to "cooties," on pages 61, 62 and 63, which in Lt. O'Brien's case had been caught in the prison camp in Courtrai. The infestation had originated from German soldiers who had become infested in the trenches. Cooties were treated by providing a pickle bath in some kind of solution. Lice were of course rife in the trenches on both sides of the conflict, and highly contagious.

The word is thought to originate from the Austronesian languages' Polynesian, Tagalog, and Malayan word kutu, meaning lice, or kudis (pronounced kuːdiːs), meaning scabies. The term presumably having been brought to the West by Western sailors and/or soldiers who had traveled to Polynesia, the Philippines, or Malaya.[1]

From its original meaning of head or body lice, the term seems to have evolved into a purely imaginary stand-in for anything contagious and repulsive.

Other terms

The lice of the First World War trenches nicknamed "cooties" were also known as "arithmetic bugs" because "they added to our troubles, subtracted from our pleasures, divided our attention, and multiplied like hell."[4]

For ages 5 onwards, Cooties are known in Denmark as "pigelus" (literally "girl lice"), and "drengelus" ("boy lice") and in Norway as "jentelus" ("girl lice") and "guttelus" ("boy lice"). In Sweden and Finland, it usually refers to girls, where they are known as "tjejbaciller"[5] (literally "girl bacilli") and "tyttöbakteeri" ("girl bacteria").

Play treatment

In the United States, children sometimes "immunize" each other from cooties by administering a "cootie shot". One child typically administers the "shot" by reciting the rhyme "circle, circle / dot, dot / now you've got the cootie shot" while using an index finger to trace the circles and dots on another child's forearm.

In some variations, a child may continue to then say "circle, circle / square, square / now you have it everywhere", in which case the child receives an immunization throughout his or her body. These variations may continue to a final shot where the child then says "circle, circle / knife, knife / now you've got it all your life", or "circle, circle / fire, fire / now your shot will never expire", or "nickel, nickel / dime, dime / now you've got it all the time", or "circle, circle / penny, penny / now you have it for infinity" while using their index finger to draw vertical lines on the other child's forearm.

In some countries, there is a slight variation of the original rhyme, it reads "circle, circle / dot, dot / now you've got the cootie lock". Note the variation in the final word of the rhyme from "shot" to "lock". The "lock" is deemed official once the child's right thumb and forefinger are touching while interlocking with the left thumb and forefinger from the left hand. The formation often resembles a figure eight. Children acknowledge there is very little that can be done to infect a friend with cooties if he/she has the "cootie lock" effectively in place. There is little explanation that points to why there is this slight, yet important variation within Canadian and American culture.

Alternatively, cooties can be immunized through one child creating a square using his or her index and middle fingers (making a peace sign in each hand and laying one on top of the other). The other child then pokes his index finger through the square, at which point he becomes immunized from cooties infection.

In playground lore, the power of a "cootie shot" is not limited to use as an immunization. The "victim" of cooties may receive a cootie shot as treatment, at which time the cootie shot may "cure" the disease. In this way, the cootie shot acts more like an antidote rather than a vaccine. When used as an antidote, sometimes a "cooties shot" is actually just a punch to the upper arm which then "cures" the punched one from the "disease".

Sometimes cootie catchers are constructed by children and used to trap cooties so the cooties can then be discarded.

Cooties in popular culture

As with any cultural convention, or fondly remembered concept from childhood, cooties are often referenced in movies, music, on television, in novels and on the Internet. References range from physical manifestation as fantastical creatures to more realistic portrayal as a cultural convention and to the traditional interpretation as lice.

Comic strips

  • Calvin, of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, does not seem to worry about catching cooties from close contact with individuals. However, he fears that he will catch them when he is the only boy on a playground full of girls. Apparently he believes that they are received from airborne transmission, as he begins breathing through his shirt and shouting "Air filter! Air filter!". In the same strip, Susie Derkins, one of the secondary characters who Calvin is with at the time, assures him that "Stupidity produces antibodies." Cooties are also mentioned when Hobbes is explaining that being in love means that when you see the object of your affection; your heart crushes your innards, makes you sweat, shorts the circuits to the brain and makes you babble like a cretin. As Calvin hears this he says that happened to him once, but that he thought that it was cooties.
  • In a February 2011 strip of Dilbert the protagonist (in order to nullify a software contract, which permits his organs to be harvested by the customer), is advised (by the company lawyer) to obtain sworn affidavits from attractive women saying he has cooties.[6]
  • Jason Fox of FoxTrot has a fear of girls and often mentions getting cooties after being touched by any girl in his class.


  • In the 1994 Hollywood hit, Pulp Fiction, cooties are mentioned in the context of sharing a drinking straw.
  • Irwin catches cooties and mono from kissing Mandy in Billy and Mandy's Big Boogey Adventure.
  • In the movie series "Mr Monk", Season 5, episode 3, the prinicpal actor is affraid of catching the Cooties in a girl's locker room. He says "The jury is still out [on the question whether they exist], if they only could get more federal funding."
  • In the movie, Grease, cooties are mentioned when Jan passes the bottle of wine to Sandy.
  • In the 1996 movie Jack, the title character retrieves a basketball that got away from the children. When he tries to give it back, they refuse saying it's covered in cooties.
  • In the 1989 movie, Back to the Future Part II, when Biff grabs Lorraine's arm, she says "get your cooties off of me!".
  • In the 2011 movie, That's What I Am, Jason Freel utters "From this the cooties came, with this the cooties shall remain!" while beating Karen "Cootie" Connor at Geek Corner.



  • "Cooties" was also one of the competitive song and dance numbers in the Broadway Musical, Hairspray. It was sung by Amber announcing that her rival Tracy Turnblad has cooties. The song incorporates "Circle, Circle, Dot, Dot, Dot" as a dance move. In the motion picture, the song is sung by Aimee Allen in the background of the dance-off in one of the final scenes, and is not sung by the character Amber.
  • Name of a Columbia, Missouri band known as the Cootie Shot Scandal.
  • Kooties is also a funk rock band from Australia
  • Frank Zappa - Dinah-Moe Humm: "So I pulled on her hair, Got her legs in the air, An' asked if she had, any cooties on there; (Whaddya mean cooties! No cooties on me!)"
  • Cootie Shot is a punk band based in northeast Pennsylvania.
  • Circle Circle Dot Dot - Jamie Kennedy and Stu Stone
  • Jazz trumpeter Cootie Williams


  • Cooties have been referred to in a number of episodes of The Simpsons. In one episode ("Homer: Bad Man") Bart claims they come from "a girl's butt" and in "The Wandering Juvie" Bart is told by Gina that there is no such thing as cooties (as well as a variety of fake "cootie-repelling" type items such as cootie insurance, which Bart appears to have bought). In another episode, Tennis the Menace, Homer asks a Cootie Catcher "Do I have cooties?" He then opens a tab and reads "No." followed by "Wow this home testing kit has saved me a fortune!" There is also an episode in The Simpsons where Bart gives Milhouse his cootie shot by punching him.
  • Cooties is also mentioned in a Friends episode, during Season 5, when Joey referred to Ross's furniture having "Rachel Cooties" because Ross's wife Emily was making him sell all of his belongings which Rachel may have touched or come in contact with.
  • Cooties feature in the 1990s television series Dexter's Laboratory, as small, girly insects with curly snouts that inhabit the bedroom of Dexter's older sister, Dee Dee.
  • In one of the episodes of Codename: Kids Next Door, where the KND scientists believed that their underwater science lab is quarantined because of cooties.
  • On an episode of the Cartoon Network program Cow & Chicken, Chicken was kissed by a girl named Whiney. This leads everybody to believe that Chicken has a particularly lethal strain of cooties known as "Whiney Cooties". Symptoms included his beak falling down, his butt dissolving, his eyeballs popping out of his head, and his beak shriveling.
  • In the first Ben 10 episode, Ben refers to Gwen as "The Queen of Cooties".
  • In one episode of the Cartoon Network program The Powerpuff Girls, cooties were featured prominently, since at first, they are the main weakness of the Rowdyruff Boys, as they explode when the Girls kiss them in order to defeat them. However, later on, when they are resurrected by Him, they are given anti-cootie vaccinations with a spell 'Circle, circle. Dot, dot. Now you got your cootie shot' to make them immune to the Girls' kisses.
  • The MTV2 show Wonder Showzen featured an episode called "health" where a character called Wordsworth comes down with a case of the cooties; his friend Him uses it to his advantage and sells Wordsworth's encrusted cootie sores as snack treats.
  • In The Big Bang Theory season 2 episode: "The Vartabedian Conundrum", Leonard's girlfriend at the time, Stephanie Barnett, gives a "cooties shot" to Sheldon Cooper.
  • In Robot Chicken season 3 episode: "President Evil", a kid infected with cutties ends up with CDC and army deployment.
  • In a recent[when?] Entourage episode, during a scene in which Ari Gold talked about his frustration with women who he claimed 'blindly defence each other' with his children, he said 'all women have cooties'.
  • In Powerpuff Girls Z the Rowdyruff Boys have an irrational fear of cooties and believe the Powerpuff Girls have them thus try to avoid direct contact from them and anything else girly. In one episode, Brick had a plan to dress up like the Powerpuff Girls and give them a bad reputation. At first, Boomer and Butch don't like his plan because they think the clothes have cooties but Brick reassured them by saying that they were just washed. However, the Girls used it against them by saying they looked like real girls to which they became furious and embarrassed and took off the clothes. Boomer then quoted, "See, Brick? I told you these clothes would give up girl germs!"

Other uses

  • The Game of Cootie, a children's tabletop game that uses 3-dimensional figures to portray the cooties as insectoid creatures.

See also


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • cooties — 1917, see COOTIE (Cf. cootie) …   Etymology dictionary

  • cooties — coo|ties [ kutiz ] noun plural AMERICAN INFORMAL LICE someone has cooties used for saying that you do not want to get close to someone. This phrase is used by children: Boys have cooties! …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • cooties — noun (plural) AmE informal 1 old use lice (louse1 (1)) that you have in your hair 2 have cooties spoken used by children to insult another child: Jenny has cooties! …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

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  • cooties — n. lice, louse (Slang) …   English contemporary dictionary

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