Happy Bloomsday!

by Katie Bowell, Curator of Cultural Interpretation

Diagram of a Quark

As my fellow literary nerds out there might already know, today is Bloomsday. June 16th is the day that all the events in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses take place, and Bloomsday, named after Ulysses’ main character Leopold Bloom, is a day of celebrating all things Joyce. Common celebrations include readings, enactments, and usually a lot of drinking. Some ambitious participants even attend complete readings of Ulysses, which can take upwards of 36 hours to finish!

Why are we at the Fort Collins Museum & Discovery Science Center happy it’s Bloomsday? Well, most people don’t know this, but James Joyce invented the word “quark.” Quark first appeared in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, in the sentence

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.

Joyce wasn’t referring to the elementary particles that are the building blocks of the universe – those hasn’t been discovered yet. But when Murray Gell-Mann proposed the model of a quark in 1964, and wanted to name it after the sound a duck makes, he was going to use the spelling “kwork” until he came across Joyce’s alternative. Here’s Gell-Mann’s telling of the naming:

“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.”

I do love it when literature and science fit together. Happy Bloomsday to all – did anyone go out and celebrate?

June 2010

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