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Cello scrotum

This unpleasant-sounding ailment was at one time given in several reference works as one of the many occupational diseases of musicians. These include horn player’s palsy, cymbal player’s shoulder, drummer’s digit, harpist’s cramps, clarinetist’s cheilitis, tuba lips, fiddler’s neck, flautist’s chin, guitarist’s groin and guitar nipple.

The term first appeared in this letter:

Though I have not come across “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 rehearsal, practice, or concert several hours a day.

British Medical Journal, 11 May 1974.

The problem with cello scrotum is that it doesn’t exist. The letter was a hoax. The deception was finally exposed in January 2009 when the practical joker came clean following a reference to the term in the 2008 Christmas edition of the Journal.

It turns out that it was a spoof by Dr Elaine Murphy, now the highly respected and respectable Baroness Murphy, formerly a professor at Guy’s and St Thomas’s Hospital in London. She and her then husband John created the letter after reading reports about guitar nipple, which they thought really was a hoax.

As several medical experts have pointed out down the years, cello scrotum couldn’t possibly exist unless the musician played his instrument in a most unusual way.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.

Page created 06 Feb 2009; Last updated 03 Jul 2010