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Cooties is a fictional childhood disease, used in the United States of America and Canada as a rejection term and an infection tag game (such as Humans vs. Zombies). It is similar to the British dreaded lurgi, and to terms used in the Nordic countries, in Italy, and in New Zealand. A child is said to "catch" cooties through close contact 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, such as being of the opposite sex, disabled, or shy, or who has peculiar mannerisms. Usually the phrase is used by boys, as in "now you've got girl cooties". The phrase is most commonly used by children aged 3–10; however, it may be used by children older than 10 in a cruel, sassy, or playful way.
The word is thought to originate from the Austronesian languages, in which the Tagalog, Māori  and Malay word kutu refers to a parasitic biting insect. The earliest recorded uses of the term in English are by British soldiers during the First World War to refer to lice that proliferated in battlefield trenches.
A hand-held game, the Cootie Game, was made by the Irvin-Smith Company of Chicago in 1915; it involved tilting capsules (the cooties) into a trap over a background illustration depicting a battlefield. Other cootie games followed, all involving some form of bug or cootie, until The Game of Cootie was launched in 1948 by Schaper Toys. The game was very successful, becoming an icon; in 2003, the Toy Industry Association included it on its "Century of Toys List" of the 100 most memorable and most creative toys of the 20th century.
In addition to the cooties games, the term cooties was popularised in America in the 1950s by military personnel coming back from service alongside the British in the South Pacific. Like the British dreaded lurgi, the cooties game developed during the early 1950s polio epidemic, and became associated with dirt and contagion.
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", such as being of the opposite sex, disabled, shy, or who has peculiar mannerisms. The phrase is most commonly used by children aged 4–10; however, it may be used by children older than 10 in a sarcastic or playful way.
In the United States, children sometimes "immunize" one another from cooties by administering a "cootie injection". Typically, one child administers the "shot", using an index finger to trace circles and dots on another child's forearm while reciting the rhyme, "Circle, circle, Dot, dot, – Now you've got the cootie shot!" In some variations, a child then says, "Circle, circle, Square, square, – Now you have it everywhere!" In this case, the child receives an immunization throughout his or her body. These variations may continue to a final shot where the child says, "Circle, circle, Knife, knife, – Now you've got it all your life!"A number of other variations exist.
In the United Kingdom children have the rejection term and infection tag game, the dreaded lurgi, and in Italy la peste ("the plague"). Cooties are known in Denmark as pigelus and drengelus and in Norway as jentelus and guttelus: each pair meaning literally "girl lice" and "boy lice". In Sweden and Finland, it usually refers to girls, where they are known as tjejbaciller (literally "girl bacilli") and tyttöbakteeri ("girl bacteria"). In Serbia the game is known as "šuga"; the word means scabies.
- Simon Bronner (26 Aug 2011). Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture. University Press of Kentucky. p. 452.
- "Appeals: cootie | Oxford English Dictionary". Public.oed.com. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
- Sue Samuelson (July 1980). "The Cooties Complex". Western Folklore 39 (3, Children's Folklore): 198–210. doi:10.2307/1499801. JSTOR 1499801. OCLC 50529929.
- "Definition of cootie". Collins English Dictionary. Retrieved 2013-06-22.
- Oxford English Dictionary
- Simon Bronner (26 Aug 2011). Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture. University Press of Kentucky. p. 213.
- "Got Cooties? Try P.D.Q.". Hoosier State Chronicles.
- Tim Walsh (1 Oct 2005). Timeless Toys. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 78.
- Tim Walsh (1 Oct 2005). Timeless Toys. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 77.
- Tim Walsh (1 Oct 2005). Timeless Toys. Andrews McMeel Publishing. p. 79.
- Simon Bronner (26 Aug 2011). Explaining Traditions: Folk Behavior in Modern Culture. University Press of Kentucky. p. 214.
- "p. 10" (PDF). Web.archive.org. 2008-10-31. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-31. Retrieved 2011-10-31.