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The Straight Dope 

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I have thought about becoming a bodybuilder, but I'm getting mixed signals from my peers. The guys say I'll catch more girls, but the girls say most guys they've dated who are into bodybuilding have very small penises. From observing many bodybuilders in pose trunks I'd say the girls seem to be right. Please help.

--Stranded, Altadena, California

If your concern is that having a godlike physique is going to shrink your privy member, S., let me assure you that my endowments are perfectly normal. It is true, however, that a lot of bodybuilders seem to be underdeveloped in this department. The problem isn't bodybuilding per se, but rather the use by its more reckless practitioners of androgenic-anabolic steroids. Steroids help you bulk up, but have numerous side effects, among them "testicular atrophy," as the medical books put it, plus reduced testosterone and lowered sperm count. One study of 20 bodybuilders on steroids found that 8 had testicular atrophy. I suppose testicular atrophy isn't the same as penile atrophy, but it's unlikely the women were in there measuring with a micrometer--and there's no question that one way or another you wind up with less volume in the codpiece.

Then again, another study found that bodybuilders taking steroids "had a significantly higher coital and orgasmic frequency than did comparison athletes," although they also had more trouble getting it up--an inevitable result, I am inclined to think, of trying to do more with less. Other side effects of steroids are gynecomastia (breast development in men) and a long list of other ailments ranging from cardiac irregularities to acne. How curious that bodybuilders, many of whom take up the sport as compensation for being short, should trade one source of male insecurity for a worse one.

What is the derivation of the idiom "on the fritz" for something that is not working? --Stephen Alpert, Los Angeles

If I had an honest atom in my body, Steve, I would say I don't know and shut up. I don't do this only out of a recognition that if everybody did likewise 90 percent of all human conversation would cease. So let me pass along the following comforting admixture of conjecture and BS. Noting that the earliest citation of "on the fritz" in the Oxford English Dictionary is from 1903, word detectives William and Mary Morris guess that it all started with the comic strip The Katzenjammer Kids, which began around that time. The kids, Hans and Fritz, make trouble for the Captain. The Morrises note, "By the end of the strip, their actions had the effect of putting whatever plans the Captain had made permanently on the Fritz." Now stop that groaning. Here's another try from the late John Ciardi: while conceding that the thing at root is "U & U" (unknown and unknowable), he reports having worked as a youth with various jamoches who, having broken some item of equipment, would onomatopoeically remark, "She'sa all pfrrrit," a sound intended to suggest a "lip fart," as John delicately put it. From there to "on the fritz" is a short step.

I was just doing New York Times crossword puzzle #1203 and was amazed at the clue for 41 Across: "Writer Cecil of 'The Straight Dope.'" Are you really that well known to become a clue? I mean, couldn't they just use some reference such as "second president," "patriot Samuel," or "photographer Ansel"? --David Sullivan, Austin, Texas

No mystery. A new editor, Will Shortz, has just taken over the NYT crossword, and how better to demonstrate his vast erudition than to mention me? As for the question of obscurity, you don't want to make the clues too easy. Maybe he should have used "second president."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Illustration/Slug Signorino.

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