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.

4 Responses to “fracking”

  1. Bruce Chadwick

    As I saw your post, I thought “that might be the Battlestar ‘Frak,’ but I think it also has a specific meaning in geology.” So you resolved the issue in your post.

    Another interesting bit of info, which probably you already know, “Frack” was actually in the original Battlestar, along with “felgercarb.” It apparently got an update to a 4-letter word, “Frak” in the new series. Somehow, Feldercarb didn’t make it, although lots of dieters do seem to think “carb” is a 4-letter word.

  2. Will Q

    Many environmentalist groups have signs, buttons, shirts, etc, that say “don’t frack with me” or “no fracking way”. My guess is that this is entirely coincidental to Battlestar Galactica, though.

    I highly recommend Josh Fox’s movie Gasland, btw. It’s on HBO now and will have a theatrical release in the fall.

  3. Thomas

    So, depending on to whom you’re speaking, saying, “well, frak me,” might yield very different results. Although both will probably be unpleasant.


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