You know cooties- if you're a little girl, boys have them. If you are a little boy, girls have them. The imaginary bugs were horrible, and you didn't want to catch them. So the rule was hands off, unless you were a contrary child and used a show of bravery against cooties as an excuse to touch the opposite sex. You know who you are.
The most familiar incarnation has features of a real infectious disease even as it says a good deal about what 6-year-olds think of the opposite sex. Every little girl knows that boys have cooties, and vice versa. One catches cooties by—eww!—touching. Shrieking games of cooties tag transmit the contagion rapidly. It can be treated with an origami “cootie catcher,” but it is better to be vaccinated.
This requires a friend and a retractable pen. Your friend clicks the pen onto your arm while chanting “circle, circle, dot, dot, now you have your cootie shot.” Folklore archives and internet forum threads show that regional variations of the therapeutic regimen have emerged. In Louisville, the charm is “line, line, dot, dot, operation cootie shot”; in Los Angeles, kids “pinch, pinch” in lieu of the “dot, dot”; in Hawaii, the process is known as an “uku shot.”
Cooties varied from place to place and featured in at least three kinds of games. But where did the term come from, anyway? Read the history of cooties at Smithsonian.
(Image credit: Flickr user Thomas Hawk)