Printable Version
Pronunciation: kwahrkor kwawrk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun, Verb

Meaning: 1. [Mass noun] A soft, low-fat cheese made from skimmed milk. 2. [Noun] Any one of six postulated elementary particles making up protons and neutrons, having an electrical charge one-third or two-thirds of that of an electron. 3. [Intransitive verb] To caw, to croak.

Notes: A connection between subatomic particles and low-fat cheese was too great a challenge to resist. How could English support two unrelated nouns as unusual as quark? In fact, the nouns turn out to be unrelated, though one comes from the verb via a bit of serendipity, as the History will show.

In Play: I will not dismay our physicist-readers with a feeble attempt to use the scientific term correctly but will defer to an article of April 23, 1967 in The Observer: "If quarks exist, they would represent a more fundamental building brick of matter than any yet known." The other two meanings are more straightforward: "Farnsworth loved sitting on the back porch in the soft, spring evenings, listening to the frogs quark in the millpond, while feasting on a bowl of fresh, bubbly quark."

Word History: James Joyce never dreamed of the impact his poem in Finnegan's Wake would have on the history of science: ?Three quarks for Muster Mark!/Sure he hasn't got much of a bark/And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.? But, according to physicist Murray Gell-Mann, he was strongly influenced by this poem when he chose quark to name this particle (at the time Gell-Mann thought that there were only three quarks). Joyce was using the noun from the verb quark "to caw, croak". There is also a noun, quark "low-fat chese", which originated in the Slavic word twarog "curds", probably taken from Sorbian, an West Slavic language related to Polish spoken in tiny enclaves throughout eastern Germany.

Dr. Goodword,

P.S. - Register for the Daily Good Word E-Mail! - You can get our daily Good Word sent directly to you via e-mail in either HTML or Text format. Go to our Registration Page to sign up today!