Recently in the Homophones Category

Dual-interpretation sketches

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Vardibidian recently pointed to a Ronnie Corbett sketch involving double meanings of terms like “Blackberry.”

I enjoyed the sketch; fun verbal comedy. And I was pleased, because I often see that kind of thing (dual interpretation of tech terms) done in ways that I don't find funny at all.

But it wasn't until now that I learned that it goes back to an earlier tradition of Two Ronnies sketches: in particular, the 1976 four candles/fork handles sketch, in which a shopkeeper and customer repeatedly misunderstand each other.

The older one includes a couple of jokes I don't get—presumably based on British and/or 1970s terminology—but I did laugh out loud a couple of times, so I figured it was worth pointing y'all to it.

fracking

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I turned on the radio during Talk of the Nation's Science Friday yesterday, in the middle of a segment about natural gas in water.

At one point (starting at 13:52 in the segment), the guest (Josh Fox, director of a documentary on the topic) said, fairly emphatically:

Chemicals in the fracking process are not supposed to be found in wells. [...] I happen to trust the citizens on the ground, who are saying, “Look, our water wasn't flammable before; they came and did a frack job; all of a sudden our water is flammable.”

And I thought, Wow, I had no idea that the term “frak” from Battlestar Galactica had gained such widespread acceptance. I heard it on Gilmore Girls once, but I don't think I've heard anyone else outside of sf circles say it; but here's a guy on the radio using it completely casually as a swear word, sounding like he says it all the time.

So I started to write this entry about it, but I had to go find the recording to get the quote right. And that was how I found out that the episode title was “New Film Investigates ‘Fracking’ For Natural Gas.”

Which made clear that I was misinterpreting something.

One quick web search later, I learned that hydraulic fracturing is a method of acquiring oil and natural gas, and that it's also known as “fracking.”

Which means that Fox wasn't swearing at all.

So instead of this being an entry about the use of a science fiction swear word in mainstream society, it's an entry about a word I hadn't previously known, and about the misinterpretations that can occur when you know a homophone for the word someone is actually saying.

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