I wouldn’t say that I now have a thorough understanding of general relativity and special relativity, let alone of quantum mechanics, but at least I am clearer about what I don’t understand. I came away feeling that in a few months I’d better reread the book.
In the part of the book dealing with quantum mechanics there is naturally extensive discussion of elementary particles, among them the quark.
How do you pronounce quark? Does it rhyme with park or with fork?
Despite the fact that other words spelt with quar- are pronounced kwɔː(r)- — quart, quarter, quarto — I have the impression that most people who know the word, whether physicists or not, pronounce it kwɑː(r)k. In LPD I included both possibilities, but prioritized kwɑː(r)k over kwɔː(r)k.
The man who invented the word, Murray Gell-Mann, wouldn’t agree. He found it in James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, the point being that quarks always occur in threes.
Three quarks for Muster Mark!
Sure he has not got much of a bark
And sure any he has it's all beside the mark.
Gell-Mann explains it as follows, in his book The Quark and the Jaguar.
In 1963, when I assigned the name "quark" to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "kwork". Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word "quark" in the phrase "Three quarks for Muster Mark". Since "quark" (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "Mark", as well as "bark" and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "kwork". But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the "portmanteau" words in "Through the Looking-Glass". From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "Three quarks for Muster Mark" might be "Three quarts for Mister Mark", in which case the pronunciation "kwork" would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature.
Cox and Forshaw take this further:
Gell-Mann has since written that he originally intended the word to be pronounced “qwork,” and in fact had the sound in his mind before he came across the Finnegan’s Wake quotation. Since “quark” in this rhyme is clearly intended to rhyme with “Mark” and “bark,” this proved somewhat problematic. Gell-Mann therefore decided to argue that the word may mean “quart,” as in a measure of drink, rather than the more usual “cry of a gull,” thereby allowing him to keep his original pronunciation. Perhaps we will never really know how to pronounce it.
I think the moral of this story is that once you coin a successful technical term you have to relinquish ownership of it. As I see it, the speech community has collectively decided that it prefers to make the word rhyme with park, and Gell-Mann’s views are irrelevant.
The OBGP disagrees. Perhaps I (or someone) ought to do a pronunciation preference survey on the word.
Is the pronunciation influenced by another word with the same spelling, the quark that is a kind of curd cheese popular in Germany? Some British supermarkets sell this. I imagine that most people who buy it pronounce it to rhyme with park, though I have no evidence. That’s certainly how it is pronounced in German. But I do wonder whether German physicists follow the Duden Aussprachewörterbuch’s advice when referring not to soft cheese (Käse) but to the Elementarteilchen. (And notice how Duden hesitates interestingly between the German equivalents of the FORCE and NORTH vowels, presumably undifferentiated in Gell-Mann’s English.)
Lastly, what about QuarkXPress, the software package used by designers and publishers? Am I right in thinking that it too usually has a first syllable rhyming with park?