Child 3 (aged 7) has been reading this modern classic and it has sparked some linguistic debate. Here is the passage in question.
“Oooh!” Ryan shouted. “A.J. and Mrs Cooney are in love!”
“Shut up!” I said. “You promised!”
“A.J., all girls have cooties!” Michael said. “Everybody knows that.”
Turns out – not everybody. There were five of us in the car when this question came up and none of us knew what a cootie actually was. Mr T. (my husband looks nothing – nothing! – like Mr T from the A team but for the purposes of this blog he is Mr T for Translator and the comparison makes me giggle) confidently asserted that they were cold sores. Why all girls should have cold sores, I don’t know, but that’s what he said and everyone seemed to accept it. But he was wrong.
A cootie is an imaginary contagion. It seems to have originated from lice and I can see that it only takes a small playground step to go from spotting headlice on someone, to pretending to see lice on a child you don’t like, to seeing them on anyone, or even just on ‘all girls’. Remind me, what was that rhyme about what little boys are made of? Oh yes. Quite.
Notwithstanding the underlying bullying involved, I do admire the creativity in cooties. Thinking about it has brought back a vivid memory of queuing up in our primary school library waiting to have my head checked by the nit nurse. And of the lice jumping about on my brother’s head on year on our summer camping holiday in France. Then there’s the general cruelty of children. When I was about five, there was a song we used to sing about the little girl who lived next door. I report this with some sense of shame and am leaving a space where her two syllable name appeared. To the tune of Jingle Bells, it went:
Jingle Bells, ____ smells,
She smells all the way.
Hold your nose until she goes and then you’ll be okay!
Bad smells, cooties…. wow, some kids are mean!