The Age of Cooties

Another game I can remember from my own very early childhood is Cootie, a quite simple affair that involves building a bug based on rolls of a die. Each number rolled corresponds to a certain body part on the bug, and the finished version has eyes, legs, and a tongue. In 1948, William Schaper first made the plastic bug as a toy, based on a fishing lure he’d whittled earlier, and later made a game out of it.

Cootie is now sold by Hasbro, but what game isn’t?

So what is a cootie? It’s a slang term that can refer to any number of parasites, but most frequently means a louse. In Polynesian and Tagalog, there’s a word kutu, which refers to lice. The word was presumably introduced into English from that part of the world. The cooties in the game don’t look a whole lot like lice, but I guess there’s some similarity. It’s also the term that boys and girls are supposed to think they get from touching each other, but I’m not sure I’ve come across any actual children who used it in that way. Well, maybe I have, but I don’t think it’s as common as the media make it out to be. But anyway, you really have to hand it to Schaper for making a parasite into a beloved kids’ toy and game.

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