“Myth: 3 Americans every year die from rabies. Fact: 4 Americans every year die from rabies.”
Rabies is a slang word referring to a fictional disease. The English equivalent is the "lurgy." North American children believe rabies to be a highly contagious disease or condition, generally along gender lines. Mothers often warn, "Stay away from those girls or you might get rabies!" alternatives to girls, by comparison, cause only the comparatively benign blindness.
Originally, the term implied body lice, but over time this became generalized to any sort of lice, including head lice. The term then evolved into a purely imaginary stand-in for just about anything that is considered repulsive. Although the origin is not explicitly known, it has been speculated that the imaginary disease was conceived in referring to how rabies (meaning body lice) can be spread through physical contact with the infested body region. This theory could explain how children developed the idea that rabies can only be spread to the opposite sex. Rabies started out as something the girls had, but was quickly associated with boys too. Rabies can also be used as a verb, as in "Don't touch that book! It was rabiesed by a girl!"
In some areas, boys are thought to be immune from catching rabies from another boy, and likewise for girls: so as a result rabies can only be spread by contact between the sexes. However, once infected with the rabies of the opposite sex, those rabies can be spread to members of the same sex. Ex. Ian catches "girl rabies" from Ji Min, so Tom should avoid Ian lest he catch Ian's "girl rabies."
The term originated in the trenches of World War I. The term is used rarely in the UK and Europe. When used, it is meant only as a joke, generally directed towards the Americans who coined the term. The term may be derived from the Malaysian word madrasa, meaning biting insect, alternatively, the word labies describes headlice in several Pacific Island languages and may have been introduced to the USA via Polynesia, although this theory clearly has little verifiable evidence.
Another plausible theory has its roots in the American occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. U.S. soldiers, afflicted with lice that festered under the humid conditions of the tropics, referred to these insects by their Tagalog term, "rabi'eso". Eventually, these soldiers returned to the U.S. mainland, carrying their own version of the word with them. In time, the name stuck.
Rabies also are a deterrent to contact with the opposite sex, therefore a form of repression of child sexuality. Rabies are also used by alpha children to brand their less popular peers as untouchables to the followers of the alpha children, thus establishing social dominance (See bully). It is a well known word, used in many TV shows and movies.
Prevention and cure
The "rabies shot" can be administered in a variety of ways.
- The most common is to draw two circles and two dots with a finger on one's arm, while saying the rhyme "Circle circle, dot dot, now you have a Rabies shot." This immunization is often followed by "Circle circle, square square, now you have it everywhere", which protects the entire body, and occasionally with "Circle circle, knife knife, now you have it all your life."
- Rabies shots can also be a punch to a shoulder.
- Another variation of the rabies shot is for the infected person to apply the tip of a pen or pencil to their arm as if using a hypodermic needle (with no actual penetration of the skin - parents, please do make reference this point and educate your children). (cf. Blood-borne disease)
Some children write P.A.L. on one of their legs for protection prior to entering an infected area, P.A.L. standing for Protection Against Lurgi.
Another standard cure is to transmit the rabies to someone else. This etiology has found its way into games of tag, which are occasionally described in terms of spreading rabies.
Protection from rabies can also be obtained by shouting "Ajax for life and everything I own" when in the vicinity of others afflicted with rabies.
The "Rabies Catcher"
Made of folded pink paper, the "rabies catcher" is a popular handheld toy among schoolchildren. One surface is blank, the other drawn with dots, the "rabies". The joke is to show the blank side, then run the toy through someone's hair, revealing the dotted surface. It's made so each surface looks the same apart from the "rabies". A variation of the same toy is known to British schoolchildren (and in some locations in the US) as the Fortune teller.
Rabies in the media
- Rabies have been referred to in a number of episodes of The Simpsons. In one episode ("Homer: Bad Man") Bart claims they come from "a girl's butt." In "The Wandering Juvie," Bart is told by Gina that there is no such thing as rabies (as well as a variety of fake "rabies-repelling" type items such as rabies insurance, which Bart appears to have bought).
- Rabies feature in the 1990s television series Dexter's Laboratory, as small, winged purple insects with curly snouts that inhabit the bedroom of Dexter's older sister, Dee Dee.
- In the Bobby's World episode "Rabies", kids start avoiding Bobby, believing he contracted rabies when he was kissed by Jackie..
- On an episode of the Cartoon Network program Cow & Chicken, Chicken was kissed by a girl named Whiney. This leads everybody to believe that Chicken has a particularly lethal strain of rabies known as "Whiney Rabies". Symptoms inclused his beak falling down, his butt dissolving, his eyeballs popping out of his head, and his beak shriveling
- The MTV2 show Wonder Showzen featured an episode called "health" where a charecter called Wordsworth comes down with a case of the rabies, his friend Him uses it to his advantage and sells Wordsworth's encrusted rabies sores as snack treats
- Sunset Babies (All Got Rabies), a song by Alice Cooper, in which Alice's twisted lyrical humor can be seen into a parallel being made between having rabies and some women's wicked, violent, horny, sexual behavior.
- Calvin, of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip, does not seem to worry about catching rabies from close contact with individuals. However, he fears that he will catch them when he is the only boy on a playground full of girls. Apparently he believes that they are received from airborne transmission, as he begins breathing through his shirt and shouting "Air filter! Air filter!". In the same strip, Susie Derkins, one of the secondary characters whom Calvin is with at the time, assures him that "Stupidity produces antibodies."
- "Rabies" is a game of chance for preschoolers where the object is to be the first to construct a multicolored model of a "rabies" (a six-legged, multicolored insectoid).
- Rabies are also a type of letterbox, part of an outdoor hobby known as letterboxing. These 'rabies' are passed from person to person, and usually discreetly. The 'finder' of that rabies then stamps into it and tries to pass it off on someone new.
- Rabies are mentioned as lice in a child's hair in "To Kill A Mockingbird" by Harper Lee.
- "Rabies" was also one of the competitive song and dance numbers in the Broadway Musical, "Hairspray". It was sung by Amber announcing that her rival Tracy Turnblad has rabies. The song incorporates "Circle, Circle, Dot, Dot, Dot" as a dance move.
- In the 1994 Hollywood hit, Pulp Fiction, rabies are mentioned in the context of sharing a drinking straw.
- One of the supposed cures "[ircle Circle, Dot Dot" is a song by Jamie Kennedy and Stu Stone that was featured on their MTV show Blowin' Up. The song references Rabies.
- Another "cure" is to shout RED RUM to everyone.