coo·​tie ˈkü-tē How to pronounce cootie (audio)
plural cooties
informal : body louse
No, I haven't any cooties. I took off my shirt a few days ago to make a louse investigation, but found none of the creatures.Donald E. Carey
During World War I, the "cootie" was credited with saving American soldiers' lives fighting in the trenches. Soldiers kept bending down to kill the bugs biting their legs, which kept them from getting wounded or killed.The Avenue News (Essex Maryland)
also : head louse
She bent into an enamel pan on an old pine table in the yard, and I lathered her head. "Dig in," she said. "Get them cooties where they live." Richard Peck
cooties plural, slang, in children's play : an imaginary contagious disease thought of especially as being passed between boys and girls
Every little girl knows that boys have cooties, and vice versa. One catches cooties by—eww!—touching.Jane C. Hu
His worldview as a 5-year-old boy was that girls had cooties, and he wasn't interested.Bill Lohmann
… their touch transfers cooties (which girls can give to boys and to girls but boys can only give to girls).Naomi Gerstel
sometimes used before another noun
My son, who is 19, told me the disease was so rampant when he was in grammar school that he had to get over 100 cootie shots [=pretend vaccinations against cooties].Mark Patinkin
also : a game involving the spread of cooties
I long for the simpler days when kids played cooties and Little League. Jeff Jarvis
slang, humorous : a germ or harmful microbe whether imaginary or real
I well recall a girlfriend of two decades ago who made bathing sound like a heinous character flaw. "How can you lie in water that's full of your own cooties and expect to get clean?" she said.Jay Stuller
They'll meet online so we all can participate without crowding into a cootie-prone room.Dakota Free Press (South Dakota)
Cootie plural Cooties : a member of a service association of the Veterans of Foreign Wars that provides social support and entertainment to veterans and their families
"For years he took me … to Martha T. Berry hospital and others, as a 'Cootie' delivering loads of books, magazines, packages of goodies and toiletries. …"Anita Kelly
From their bright uniforms to their fun-loving way of life, Cooties bring smiles and laughter to those "who most need it."Janie Dyhouse

see also cootie catcher

Examples of cootie in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web But for me, the way into Cootie was his innocence and his naïveté. Vulture, 7 July 2023 For example, a man who’s trying to punch Cootie flies up into the air. Common Sense Media, Washington Post, 7 July 2023 Another, portrayed by the amazing Kara Young, serves as Cootie’s mentor in activism. Michael Phillips, Chicago Tribune, 6 July 2023 Season 1 ends with a thrilling tease of what dangers might lie ahead, should Prime Video opt for another chapter of Cootie and Co. Lauren Puckett-Pope, ELLE, 30 June 2023 Jerome tapped into experiences when he’s felt childlike — at the Emmys, for example, surrounded by his idols — to conjure Cootie’s awe at his first fast-food burger, or a pretty girl. Emma Silvers, Rolling Stone, 24 June 2023 In Riley’s creation of 13-foot-tall Cootie (Jerome), a giant growing up in Oakland who meets a group of teen activists, the director says his creativity uses the absurd to point out the obvious in real-life situations. Demetrius Patterson, The Hollywood Reporter, 23 June 2023 Primed by the radical theory that has suffused his homeschool curriculum, Cootie bonds with a young communist organizer, Jones (Kara Young), and falls for Flora (Olivia Washington), who works at fast-food chain Bing Bang Burger and has extraordinary abilities of her own. Time, 23 June 2023 More specifically, Cootie’s height helps to exaggerate the way that his Blackness prevents the powers that be from seeing his interiority and individuality. Selome Hailu, Variety, 23 June 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'cootie.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


of uncertain origin; (sense 4) after the Military Order of the Cooties, the organization's original name, alluding to the "cooties" (lice) that plagued soldiers in the trenches

Note: This word has at times been seen as a borrowing from Malay kutu "any of various parasitic biting insects," or a cognate form in another Austronesian language, with the ending conformed to -ie. (See forms under "louse" in R. Blust and S. Trussel, The Austronesian Comparative Dictionary, online.) The earliest records of coot and cootie "body louse," and cooty "infested with lice" are in letters and journals of British soldiers, or Americans in British service, in the trenches of Belgium and France. The American Harold Chapin, fighting in the British Army, used cooty and coot in letters written in April and September, 1915, prior to his death in the Battle of Loos on September 26. By 1917 the word was in general use among British and American soldiers. There is no indication in any of the early records of a connection with Southeast Asia or Oceania, which might be the case if coot(y) was a loanword from that region. Oxford English Dictionary, third edition, suggests that the adjective cooty "infested with lice," may have been the basis for the other forms, and alludes to the bird coot, which was reputed to have been heavily infested with parasites; compare the expression "as lousy as a coot," attested regionally in England since ca. 1864.

First Known Use

1917, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of cootie was in 1917

Dictionary Entries Near cootie

Cite this Entry

“Cootie.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


coo·​tie ˈküt-ē How to pronounce cootie (audio)

Medical Definition


coo·​tie ˈküt-ē How to pronounce cootie (audio)
informal : body louse
also : head louse
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