Sunday, October 18, 2009


A Particular Problem

Back issues of medical journals are not where I would ordinarily expect to find humor, but I couldn't help laughing when I read J.A. Cameron, "A Particular Problem Concerning Personal Cleanliness," Public Health 76 (1962) 173-177. J.A. Cameron was Industrial Medical Officer, Oxfordshire, and his article was apparently meant to be serious. Warning: scatological content ahead.

P. 173:
As a result of the examination during the last two years, of a large number of men of mixed ages and circumstances, I have become interested in their personal cleanliness, and particularly in the condition of their underpants. Such a high proportion of these men showed faecal contamination of their underwear that I decided to count the numbers so affected; at the same time noting those who habitually wear no underpants at all.
The "large number" was 940, the proportion showing faecal contamination was 43.8%, and the number wearing no underpants was 8.6%. The extent of contamination ranged from "wasp-coloured staining in the natal cleft region of the underwear" to "frank massive faeces" (ibid.).

P. 173:
Under the circumstances in which this survey was conducted, it could be safely presumed that almost all the men concerned would have known that a medical examination was to be expected. From this it may be inferred that a "surprise" inspection might reveal an even higher proportion of contamination than that already shown; for many might take the precaution of presenting themselves in clean linen....There were surprises at every level. Amongst the numbers examined were some University graduates, and all grades of society, from the well educated to the general labouring class.
P. 174:
Outward appearance often belied itself. A "Teddy Boy" is outwardly very smart, his hair well greased, his pointed shoes well polished, and he has a pride in his appearance often contradicted by stripping him....Whilst a general dirtiness often was associated with underpant contamination, it was surprising how often this appeared on its own so frequently and in an otherwise clean individual.
P. 175:
Some may consider that it is not the business of a doctor to interfere and comment upon such a personal matter and I respect their point of view; however, my own interpretation of a doctor's duty suggested that some action was needed, even if no successful result was obtained. For this reason I decided that there was no point in this Survey unless I mentioned to those involved that they showed a lack of hygiene in this particular regard. It was naturally a delicate matter to handle, and the answers varied between a truculent "mind your own business" attitude and a host of excuses such as sweating, long journeys, bicycle riding, "nervous diarrhoea" and haemorrhoids.
P. 176:
[A] high proportion of the population are prepared to cry aloud about footling matters of uncleanliness such as tomato sauce stain on a restaurant tablecloth, whilst they luxuriate on a plush seat in their faecally-stained pants. They will have sent the waiter scurrying for a fresh tablecloth, but show no such haste to realise their own shortcomings.

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