Oh my gosh! “Scrotum”!

The biggest cello news since last week’s revalation that we heard a recording while Yo-Yo Ma and company acted out their parts at President Obama’s inaguaration is  . . .

“Cello scrotum” is not a real medical condition!

I guess we’re all twelve-year-olds at heart:  there were six or seven links to stories about it in this morning’s Google Alert for “cello,” a colleague sent me a link, there’s an item posted on Cello Chat, and here I am writing about it.

The BBC site tells the story.  About thirty-five years ago, Elaine (now Baroness) Murphy, then a professor at a London hospital, and her husband read a report of “guitar nipple” (irritation supposedlin the British Medical Journal.  It stuck them as a probable hoax, and they wrote a letter to the editor of the Journal with what they thought was an even more obvious put-on:

Sir–Though I have not come across of “guitar nipple” as reported by Dr. P. Curtis (27 April, p. 226), I did once come across a case of “cello scrotum” caused by irritation from the body of the cello.  The patient in question was a professional musician and played in practice, rehearsal, or concert for several hours each day.–I am, etc.,

J.M. Murphy

Mr. Murphy, who now runs a brewery, and I assume was not practicing medicine in 1974, signed the letter lest it cause any problem for the now-Baroness.  To their surprise, the letter was published (my favorite part is the “I am, etc.”).  The Murphys now explain,

“Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realise the physical impossibility of our claim.

“Somewhat to our astonishment, the letter was published.”

The term worked its way into the medical literature nonetheless, with one astute writer suggesting that the irritation was most likey from contact with the chair.

Lots of people play cello “balls to the wall” (which turns out to be an avaiation turn having nothing to do with anatomy), but no matter how enthusiastic one is, you can’t play “balls to the cello.”  Unless you’re one heck of a contortionist.


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