Alberta made a cameo on the justly popular Language Log linguistics website last week. U of Calgary prof Julie Sedivy signed in to discuss some survey evidence from Louisiana that public resistance to “fracking” (i.e., hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting oil and gas more efficiently by injecting high-pressure sand, water, and sometimes other chemicals into wells) may result, in part, just from the unpleasantness of the word. The industry tends to use “frac” as an adjective; “fracking” as a verb is a media creation, though, it must be said, not really an unsuitable one. Hydraulic fracturing is intended in part to crack up petroleum-bearing rock strata, so there’s an onomatopoeic appropriateness there.
The Louisiana study [PDF] did find significant differences in survey responses between people who had “fracking” and “hydraulic fracturing” described to them in those terms and those who were given a more elliptical description that referred to “high-pressure injection”. As Sedivy points out, an experimental control of this nature is necessarily a little loose. But it does raise the ugly possibility that we are going to see further low-level linguistic warfare of the sort that has divided Canada asininely into standard-bearers for the terms “oilsands” and “tarsands”. To which I can only say: oh, for frack’s sake.