Printable Version
Pronunciation: kwahrk 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, a West Slavic language related to Polish spoken in tiny enclaves throughout eastern Germany.

Dr. Goodword,

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