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James (Clerk/Clark)? Maxwell

  1. Sep 27, 2010 #1
    Which is it?? For such an amazingly influential recent figure in science, you would think that we could be sure of his name! It seems to be accepted that Clerk is the correct middle name, but I have heard Clark so many times on videos that I'm not sure what is right!
  2. jcsd
  3. Sep 27, 2010 #2


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    It's spelled Clerk, pronounced "Clark." I have found that a lot of physicists are very pedantic on the pronunciations of the names. I have had more than one physics professor that always said "Einschtein."
  4. Sep 27, 2010 #3
    Ahh I see! Thank you very much!
  5. Sep 27, 2010 #4
    I have figured out Debye, but how to pronounce Peierls?
  6. Sep 28, 2010 #5


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    "Clerk" proper name or common noun is pronounced "Clark" in British English.

    I have read that this British pronunciation was originally an affectation, and I have read the opposite, that it was a takeover from uneducated speech. The second seems more likely to me. Certainly the surnames Clark and Clarke are much more common than Clerk. The Latin and French roots are er of course, as in cleric etc. This change seems to have happened so early that I’d guess the American pronunciation is a later decision to ‘say as spelt’? And are you sure that all Americans do always say it that way? - see the last sentence of this wiki extract:

    The pronunciation (klärk), spelled clark and clerk, arose in the south of England during the 15th century and is today the Received Pronunciation of clerk in the United Kingdom. The modern American pronunciation (klûrk) more closely represents the older pronunciation. The pronunciation (klärk) is used in the United States only in the proper name Clark.

  7. Sep 28, 2010 #6


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    Another odd one you often need to say is Sturm. I have always said and thought of it as the English S ur sound. Then one day I thought hey, this is an Anglicisation though no doubt an irreversibly established one. I ought to be saying something like Shtoorm. But later I found out he was not German though his parents were from Strasbourg. He was born in Francophone Geneva (Francophone now and I suppose then, at any rate he took classes to learn German) and spent most of his career in Paris, France. I do not imagine the Parisians made any concessions to foreign diction; I think the name does not fit easily into French diction, I imagine they did not know quite what to make of it but probably made it sound something like Monsieur Stume or Stuhrme. It must have been a lifelong awkwardness for him. Anyway I think that all lets me pronounce it how I always did.
  8. Sep 28, 2010 #7


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    You should consider yourself lucky that there was no famous Polish physicist called Brzęczyszczykiewicz.

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