“Circle, circle, dot, dot, now I have the cootie shot.”

I was sick and I touched Nick’s arm. I apologized for touching him while ill, and he pretended to be alarmed. He then playfully recited the above live. He said this above line as a way of jokingly warding off disease.

He learned this game from elementary school. In elementary school, girls think boys have cooties, and boys think girls have cooties. Cooties can be loosely defined as germs. The only thing one really needs to know about them is that one does not want to have them; they are gross and bad. The only way to ward off contracting the cooties was to trace a circle twice around a spot on one’s arm and then poke the center of the circle twice while chanting this line. The cootie shot also works to protect one from anything gross. Nick used it just like everyone else did in his elementary school. However, Nick still continues to use it in a playful manner. Whenever he encounters or touches something gross, such as a person coughing, he uses it. He calls these “occasions for the cootie shot.” He does not mean to offend the other person (me), he is just kidding. He realizes it is a “child teasing game.”

I myself also went through the cootie shot phase in elementary school. I think the cootie shot is pretty popular in most elementary schools, as evidenced by the cootie shot appearing in published works such as Shelley Stoehr’s book Weird on the Outside (p. 83). Playing tag became problematic when the cootie shot was introduced, because then everyone was busy inoculating themselves with the cootie shot after getting tagged. I agree with Nick that one mainly used it in elementary school as a way to get rid of any cooties one may have contracted from touching a person of the opposite sex, or something gross (or both). I agree that the cootie shot is a definite form of protection. In elementary school, it was thought to be a foolproof way to guard against cooties. However, I think there is another reason behind children wanting to guard against the cooties they could contract from interacting with a person of the opposite sex. Games are oftentimes a child’s way of exploring the world around them. They see that in the adult world, males and females interact and so children become curious about the opposite sex. However, in elementary school, boys and girls are usually polarized in their respective genders; girls stick with girls, boys stick with boys. According to elementary school social rules, boys and girls are not “supposed to” interact. I think the cootie shot is a “safe”, acceptable way for children to interact with one another. The cootie shot meant they could safeguard themselves from any danger that could possibly result from interacting with a person of the opposite sex. It also gave them an excuse to interact with the opposite sex. It was a playful game, and it is still used once in awhile even though we are now older. Nick is evidence that young adults still engage in this playful game.

It is interesting that the cootie shot game has stayed with young adults. Young adults do not typically still recite jump-rope rhymes, but I have heard multiple young adults still use the cootie shot. It was a playful game in elementary school, and it remains a playful game in college. However, it has changed for college students because now it is an occasion for anyone involved in this occurrence to laugh and become a little bit nostalgic. Most of us are nostalgic when it comes to remembering the grade school days, and the cootie shot brings back a lot of memories. People then tend to discuss these memories, seeing what similar things they did or had at their separate elementary schools.

Annotation: Stoehr, Shelley. Weird on the Outside. New York, N.Y.: Delacorte Press, 1995.