The Endocrine Rosary

This is either funny, banal or rude. Or all three.

I was reading this Slate article, discussing whether or not children were entering puberty earlier than they used to, when I encountered this paragraph:

With no objective blood test or scan, most experts consider breast budding and testicular growth the hallmarks of puberty’s beginning. Unfortunately, those measures are very subjective—particularly for male children. Pediatricians guess the size of a boy’s testicles by touch and comparison to a rosary-like string of balls called an orchidometer, which is not very accurate.

How about that–not only does this sound like a medical device for measuring flowers, but it also looks like a rosary. To Google Image Search! You can tell me why there’s a hockey team listed among all those rosaries. Here’s what a set looks like:

I searched Flickr for pictures as well. All I found was this photo of sheepish Danish veterinarian, wearing a faux elephant orchidometer.

Wikipedia indicates that it was invented by an Austrian doctor in the 60’s, and “doctors sometimes informally refer to them as ‘Prader’s balls’ (after the inventor), ‘the medical worry beads’, or the ‘endocrine rosary.'”

I was curious about the origin of the term ‘orchidometer’. According to a couple of dictionaries, orchid comes from the Latin orchis, which refers to a, uh, tuberous root. That term in turn derives from the Greek orkhis, which literally means testicle.

And now your Friday is complete. If I’d known about the orchidometer a few years ago, when I was writing a play about balls, I might have included it.


  1. Pediatricians use these on puberty-age boys? I kind of doubt that. I don’t remember having my doctor touch my balls when I was 12 years old.

  2. Maybe you could use one of these as the testicular equivalent of marking your growing kids’ heights on the wall. You could write on one of the beads “Jimmy, age 7”.

    Of course it makes perfect sense that I’ve never seen one of these before, it’s not like they can do the comparison so easily for ovaries.

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