Slang of the First World War
"Cooties"

A Canadian searches his shirt for “cooties” (body louse) in May 1917.
Credit: Canada. Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada/PA-001331.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, today we’re sharing a light-hearted story involving “cooties” and love letters during the First World War. Did you know “cooties” was one of the many terms used to describe body louse?

“One sunny day in the front-line trench, I saw three officers sitting outside of their dugout… exploring their shirts… The major was writing a letter; every now and then he would lay aside his writing-pad, search his shirt for a few minutes, get an inspiration, and then resume writing. At last he finished his letter and gave it to his “runner.” I was curious to see whether he was writing to an insect firm, so when the runner passed me I engaged him in conversation and got a glimpse at the address on the envelope. It was addressed to Miss Alice Somebody, in London… the major’s sweetheart… he wrote to her every day. Just imagine it, writing a love letter during a “cootie” hunt; but such is the creed of the trenches.” (Empey, Over The Top, p. 23)