British Medical Journal hoax revealed after 34 years

British Medical Journal hoax revealed after 34 years

If you’re a cellist, and you’re a male, I have some good news. You know that embarrassing medical condition you’ve been worried about for more than 30 years? Well you can cross it off your list of things to worry about.

In 1974, Elaine and John Murphy read a letter in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that described an unusual health challenge for guitar players: guitarist nipple. Assuming this was probably a spoof (it wasn’t), they were inspired to write their own spoof, and sent off a letter detailing the rare chafing condition they called cello scrotum.

And BMJ published the letter.

Over the past 3.5 decades, Elaine has done well for herself. She’s now a doctor and a member of the House of Lords, no less. And she recently unburdened herself of the little hoax she and her husband pulled off in their carefree youth.

But the validity of cello scrotum hasn’t always been accepted at face value. It was questioned in a 1991 article that appeared in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. And just last year, in a BMJ article about the unique health problems that musicians face, cello scrotum was mentioned, but with a note that the awkward playing position required to produce the condition “make it a rarity that has been questioned.”

Elaine agrees. She told CNN: “Anyone who has ever watched a cello being played would realize the physical impossibility of our claim.”

By the way, that 2008 BMJ article about musicians’ health problems includes these authentic maladies: cello knee, cellist’s chest, oboist’s and trumpeter’s intraocular pressure, pianist’s hand, flautist’s chin, brass player’s embouchure dystonia, and (yes, it’s a genuine condition) guitarist’s nipple.

And here’s a useful note from the same article: Playing wind instruments has been found to reduce symptoms in asthmatic teenagers.

“Cello Scrotum Exposed as a Hoax” CNN, 1/28/09,
“A Symphony of Maladies” Sarah Bache, BMJ, 12/12/08,