Monday, December 15, 2008

Girl Lice, Boy Lice

Dina knows me well enough to point me in the direction of the Wikipedia page for cooties.

What you may not know: By most accounts, the word seems to come from kuto, which in various Austronesian languages refers to head lice, the non-head-residing kind of lice, and fleas. (What a great catch-all word to know if you’d rather not emerge from your travels infested.) From that word, soldiers passing through Malaysia or the Philippenes or wherever formed an Anglicized plural that we use today to refer to the germs we supposedly get from the opposite sex. (Oddly, we don’t use quite as often as adults, even though the opposite sex is just as likely to give us germs. A very specific kind of germs, depending on what you’re into.) The Wikipedia article notes that the term for this imaginary ailment has some fairly entertaining names in Scandinavia.
  • in Denmark: pigelus and drengelus, literally “girl lice” and “boy lice”
  • in Norway: jentelus and guttelus, also literally “girl lice” and “boy lice”
  • in Finland: tytt√∂bakteeri, literally “girl bacteria”
  • and the most entertaining of all, the Swedish tjejbaciller, literally “girl bacillus”
Good job, Dina girl, you tjejbaciller-carrier you.

1 comment:

  1. I did know that, coincidentally. I think Rolling Thunder, Hear My Cry has a scene where a teacher is confronted with an infested child. When she shrieks, demanding to know what that was, another kid nonchalantly inquires "Haven't you ever seen a cootie before?"

    While I only paid incidental attention to my English classes before college, that sticks out. I may not have right book, but the scene was fairly memorable.