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August 5th, 2005

Zen in the Art of Cooties

"That's All, Folks!"
(Epitaph on the tombstone of Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, who was allergic to carrots (and cooties), and buried in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, LA.)



Dear folks,

How many people growing up ever had an outbreak of the cooties ? Raise hands. How many have ever given them to others? Cooties are very contagious but, paradoxically, everyone knows that there is only one way to get rid of cooties - and that is to give them to someone else. (Don't ask me to explain this. I'm not a rocket scientist.) I don't know about anyone else, but I've had a bad case of terminal cooties my whole life. Or more accurately: a very GOOD case! The actual term Cootie came into popular use about 1917, and was originally British World War I slang, (probably earlier in nautical use) from the Malay kutu meaning "dog tick." (More on the life and times of the cootie below.)

Speaking of super-cooties, for fans of
DIFFICULTWOMEN, this Saturday, 6th August, at 8 pm, Nu Country TV, Channel 31, Melbourne, is showing a clip of the song, RIVER OF LIFE. This is the second of our hand-made videoclips to go to air this month. RIVER OF LIFE is sung by LIN VAN HEK and has become a standard in our live shows over the past few years. It was written by New Zealand/London folk legend, KATH 'Kootie of Great Beauty' TAIT, who just recently celebrated her birthday. Suck a candle out for us, Kath! (press release)




G'day Joe,
Re: Remembering the Difference Between Stalagmites & Stalactites
Then there is the mnemonic - stalactites have to hold tight to the ceiling, and stalagmites might reach the ceiling...Love your eclectic newsletter - keep 'em coming. Cheers, Martin G

Hey Joe,
I found this helpful. When I was at school, sometime between the Crimean and Boer wars, my teacher suggested I think of the ballerina in the flea-infested theatre. The mites went up and the tights came down. chiz, Sam C

(Note: I got quite a few of this particular comment from male readers. It must be a result of what Zigmund Freud called, in one of his unpublished works, The Erotic Cootie Compulsion, occurring during pre-adolescence, that caused this phrase to linger with so many of my fellow testosterozoni.)

Ciao Joe,
I enjoyed reading your
ARTICLE on the web, equally enjoying browsing through your website and viewing your accomplishments- congratulations!

I'm an Italian/Aussie living in NYC as a professional Fitness Trainer and actor. I treat my clients as best friends and often sing "Whatsa matta you" to some of my Italian and Greek American clients. They know it and we have a good laugh. I'm going to forward some of your jokes on to my Dad and try out some of your recipes. I'm a Chef myself and if you'd like to try some healthy Italian inspired meals go here Ci vediamo, Gennaro

(Note: Gennaro has a nice website and offers a creative fitness service with an online evaluation component. Excellent idea. [I've also heard he works part-time as a freelance Cootie Buster - hey, who ya gonna call? -] website




A sceptical anthropologist was cataloguing South American folk cootie remedies with the assistance of the tribal brujo who indicated that the leaves of a particular fern were a sure cure for any case of cootie constipation. When the anthropologist expressed his doubts, the brujo looked him in the eye and said, "Seriously, with fronds like these, who needs enemas?"  (Boom! Boom!)

An Indian chief was feeling very sick, so he summoned the cootie medicine man. After a brief examination, the medicine man took out a long, thin strip of cootie-free elk hide and gave it to the chief, instructing him to bite off, chew and swallow one inch of the leather every day. After a month, the medicine man returned to see how the chief was feeling. The chief shrugged and said, "The thong is ended, but the malady lingers on." (Boom! Boom!)

A famous Viking cootie explorer returned home early from a voyage, having come down with a rare case of the Lindisfarne cooties, and found his name missing from the town register. His wife insisted on complaining to the local civic official who apologized profusely saying, " Ya ya, I must have taken Leif off my census." (Boom! Boom!)
(thanks to Cootie Queen Justine Stewart)


Rubber Johnny. . .



History of the Cootie


Technical name: Pediculus Corporis n: a parasitic louse that infests the body of human beings [syn: body louse, cootie]

The original cooties were very real and extremely nasty, since the word was first applied to body lice. It's a slang term intimately (and I mean that sincerely) associated with the military in World War One. It's first recorded in print in 1917, but is presumably older.

The term was used among children for head lice back in the 1920s. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, the word was still common in this literal sense (and, of course, it's still known as such). There was also the cootie catcher, (see samples below) a folded paper shape that you could use to pretend you had discovered cooties on a schoolmate. By the 1970s, though, its literal associations were beginning to be become diffused to the point that the word could also refer to some generalised repulsive state that only people you don't like ever get.

The word sounds Scots, and indeed at one time cootie was a good Scots adjective applied to farmyard fowls with feathered legs (it's probably from cuit, ankle); a cootie could at one time also be a small wooden dish used in the kitchen for various purposes. But cootie in the sense of louse doesn't seem to be linked to these (and great powers of invention would be needed to derive our sense from either of them).

The most common theory is that it is from Malay, where kutu is a biting insect, though no dictionary I have here feels able to say for sure how it got from there into the slang of soldiers who had to suffer the louse-ridden trenches of the European conflict. It's persuasively said, though, that it was borrowed by American soldiers in the Philippines early in the twentieth century-either from Malay or more probably a related word in Tagalog-who then took it with them to Europe.
(thanks to Michael Quinion)






Language Studies


"More than 60% of (English) words have silent letters."
Kent Jones, Education Committee, Esperanto Society of Chicago

James Chandler observes "Many people are perhaps not aware of the astonishing fact that nearly every letter of the English alphabet is silent in some word." Here are three reasons why English has so many silent letters:

Old English was 90% phonemic (words sound the same as they look). But from the beginning of the 15th century, we began to borrow words from other languages. Because grammar and usage rules are different in other languages, adopted words did not follow the rules of English pronunciation. The English language 'borrowed' the Latin alphabet, and so we have only got 26 letters to represent around 41 different significant sounds. This means that we must attempt to use combinations of letters to represent sounds. In the Middle English Period William Caxton brought the printing press to England. As time passed, pronunciation continued to change, but the printing press preserved the old spelling. That's why today we have words that end in a silent 'e', or have other silent letters in the middle, like 'might'. In fact, modern day English is only 40% phonemic.

* Mb at the end of a word (silent b), e.g. comb, lamb, climb.
* Sc at the beginning of a word followed by 'e' or 'i', (silent c), e.g. scene, scent, science, scissors (except for the word 'sceptic' and its derivations!).
* Kn (silent k), e.g. knife, knock, know.
* Mn at the end of a word (silent n), e.g. damn, autumn, column
* Ps at the beginning of a word (silent p), e.g. psalm, psychiatry, psychology
* Ght (silent gh), e.g. night, ought, taught
* Gn at the beginning of a word (silent g), e.g. gnome, gnaw, gnu
* Bt (silent b), e.g. debt, doubtful, subtle (but not in some words, e.g. 'obtain', 'unobtrusive'!)
(thanks to Rupert Guenther)


Military Order of Cooties
Honor Degree of the Veterans of Foreign Wars


Consider the official uniform of the VFW's Military Order of the Cootie (MOC): red pants with a white stripe running down each side; ruffled white shirt; lace-trimmed red vest emblazoned on the back with a gold-outlined, bug-like creature with flashing light bulb eyes; red, overseas-style cap worn sideways so that the tassels dangle beside the wearer's ears. Surely whoever designed this outfit must have had in mind the old saying that "clothes make the man." After all, one of the principle objectives of the Cootie auxiliary is for its members to have and provide fun for themselves and others. The MOC can trace its ancestry to the Imperial Order of the Dragon - a similar fun-loving auxiliary that was affiliated with the United Spanish American War Veterans (USAWV). After World War I, two veterans who were members of both the USAWV and the VFW thought that the VFW might be able to attract more members if it formed an auxiliary modeled on the Imperial Order of the Dragon. These men, Fred Madden and F.L. Gransbury, began recruiting members for the new auxiliary on September 17, 1920, at the VFW National Encampment in Washington, D.C. By the end of the encampment, nearly 300 members had been enrolled, and Fred Madden had become the first Seam Squirrel (commander). Later that year, a complete slate of officers was assembled and ratified at a special meeting held in Cavalry Baptist Church in New York City. Madden developed a constitution and by-laws while Gransbury authored the ritual. (Together with the official uniform, these were approved in 1924.) (article)


Battle over Gay Marriage Plays Out in Indian Country
By Lois Romano
The Washington Post

Tulsa - Truth be told, Kathy Reynolds and Dawn McKinley were content living in quiet suburban anonymity, raising a child, accepted by neighbors who did not know their sexual orientation, and hoping to grow old together.  A complex legal battle with cultural overtones was not on their agenda. But their dreams bumped against legal reality when Dawn was barred from Kathy's hospital room because she was not family. It was not long after that the lesbian couple brought the national battle over same-sex marriage to the heart of Indian country as they moved to become the first gay couple to marry under Cherokee law. (article)



Cooties Are Halal
Hamzah Moin


"Things were great when people believed cooties were real. If anything I think it's the most Islamic approach to handling the opposite gender. Sisters, imagine seeing a marriage prospect walking down the hall. If you want to avoid this awkward situation you just shout: "EWWWW THAT BROTHER HAS COOTIES" and you run down the hall, flailing your arms in the air. Brothers, I'd tell you to imagine this situation but some of us already do it in real life. In summary, believe in cooties. They are real. "
(from Manic Muslim, Making Muslims Look Cool Since 1984.) - WEBSITE



Bad to the Last Drop
by Tom Standage


" Clean water could be provided to everyone on earth for an outlay of $1.7 billion a year beyond current spending on water projects, according to the International Water Management Institute. Improving sanitation, which is just as important, would cost a further $9.3 billion per year. This is less than a quarter of global annual spending on bottled water."

It's summertime, and odds are that at some point during your day you'll reach for a nice cold bottle of water. But before you do, you might want to consider the results of an experiment I conducted with some friends one summer evening last year. On the table were 10 bottles of water, several rows of glasses and some paper for recording our impressions. We were to evaluate samples from each bottle for appearance, odor, flavor, mouth, feel and aftertaste - and our aim was to identify the interloper among the famous names. One of our bottles had been filled from the tap. Would we spot it?

We worked our way through the samples, writing scores for each one. None of us could detect any odor, even when swilling water around in large wine glasses, but other differences between the waters were instantly apparent. The variation between waters was wide, yet the water from the tap did not stand out: Only one of us correctly identified it. This simple experiment seemed to confirm that most people cannot tell the difference between tap water and bottled water. Yet they buy it anyway - and in enormous quantities.

Globally, bottled water is a $46 billion industry. In 2004, Americans, for example, drank 24 gallons on average, making it second only to carbonated soft drinks. Ounce for ounce, it costs more than gasoline, even at today's high gasoline prices; depending on the brand, it costs 250 to 10,000 times more than tap water. Why has it become so popular? (article)


The Girl Cooties Theory of Literature
By Debra Doyle, Ph.D.


We start by positing the existence of a body of sf readers and writers (numerically perhaps fairly small, but nevertheless extremely vocal) who are deathly afraid of getting girl cooties. "Hard sf" is their science fiction of choice, because it has the fewest girl cooties of any of the sf subgenres. No subjectivity, no mushy bits, none of that messy relationship stuff getting in the way of the classic sf values of hardness and rigor (and no, I don't think the elevation of those particular values is coincidental.) Admixtures from other genres are allowed provided that the secondary genre also provides the reader with a low-cootie environment. Westerns don't have girl cooties, for example, and neither do technothrillers. Men's action-adventure is about as cootie-free as it's possible to get. And so on.

Romance, on the other hand, is absolutely crawling with girl cooties, and any sf which contains, or appears to contain, romance elements is going to be viewed with alarm by this set of readers. It's often possible to offset the presence of girl cooties by including a sufficient number of explosions and fistfights and rivetty bits, or (in cases where even violence and rivets aren't enough) by the inclusion of an appendix full of knotty-looking equations -- but the readers are ever-vigilant and you can't fool them forever. The incorporation of romantic elements into a work of sf, therefore, has to be done with considerable care, not to say deviousness. (article)




"People who do not like food are uninteresting. People who live on a lettuce leaf are too light-headed for conversation."
Dame Kiri Te 'Kootie' Kanawa


2 cups flour
1 cootie-free egg
2 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
freshly grated parmesean cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Mound the flour on a flat surface, make a well in the centre and break the egg into it, with a little water, and mix and knead until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Add more water or flour as required. Divide the dough into two parts and rest for 10 minutes. (Let the dough rest as well. Boom boom!)

Cook the pumpkin in enough water to cover. Drain, mix in some butter, salt and pepper and parmesean cheese and let cool thoroughly in the fridge until ready to use.

Roll out the dough into a square flat sheet, very thin. Keep lifting the sheet and dusting both sides with flour so it does not stick to the surface. When you have gotten the layer as thin as possible without breaking it, space teaspoons of pumpkin filling along half the layer. (You are going to fold over the other half on top so make your spacings even and leave enough room around the edges of each teaspoon of filling to seal. Fold over the other half of the sheet and gently press out the air bubbles around each teaspoon of filling as you press down with your thumb, marking out the individual ravioli pieces. With a serrated ravioli cutter, cut each ravioli on all four sides, dust them in flour and set aside until ready.

Bring a pot of water to the boil. Drop the ravioli into the water and cook until al dente.



1 cup gorgonzola cheese
half ponnet of light cream
2 cups chicory, finely shredded

Place the cream in a large saucepan and slowly bring to just under a simmer. Add the gorgonzola cheese and stir in thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the shredded chicory and cook gently for about three minutes.

Drain the ravioli and toss in the pan with the sauce until well coated. Serve on a plate with freshly grated parmesan cheese and some freshly ground black pepper.



The Last Rites of the Bokononist Faith
God made mud.
God got lonesome.
So God said to some of the mud, "Sit up!"
"See all I've made," said God, "the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars."

And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
Lucky me, lucky mud.

I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
Nice going, God.
Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn't have.
I feel very unimportant compared to You.
The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud
that didn't even get to sit up and look around.
I got so much, and most mud got so little.
Thank you for the honor!

Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
What memories for mud to have!
What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
I loved everything I saw!
Good night.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. ~
 (Cat's 'Cooties' Cradle)