Saturday, April 19, 2014

A-Z Challenge: Quoting a Quark.

"Quack, quack!", said the Quark. He thought he was a duck.

The neighboring Loon looked over and said, "Oh, hum. How elementary. And what is the matter now?"

"I'm not sure. I can't see where my children are! They are always together. Even if they can't be seen," replied the Quark.

"I see," nodded the Loon.

"No you don't. You can't see them!," exclaimed the Quark. "They tend to group themselves in these 'hadrons', as they call themselves. And they seem to elude me all the time."

Loon ruffled his feathers. "Sure; there is probably a very strong force between them. What are your children's names?"

Quark thought for a moment, trying to remember. "I think their names are Up, Down, Strange, Charm, Bottom, and Top. That is, if I remember correctly."

With a shake of his neck, Loon muttered in his beak, "You've got to be kidding me. And they call this 'fysics?'"

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 a 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 dreams 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 the pronunciation for ‘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.
—Murray Gell-Mann, in his book The Quark and the Jaguar: Adventures in the Simple and the Complex.
Murray Gell-Mann, born in 1929, is an American physicist who received the 1969 Nobel Prize in physics (or, that 'f' word, fysics) for his work on the theory of elementary particles. Including quarks.


  1. Ok. You got me wanting to read Gell-Mann's book. :-) I enjoyed your introduction immensely.

    The View from the Top of the Ladder

  2. Loved the intro with the Quark and the Loon! :)