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To Frack or To Frac

Screen Shot 2014-05-20 at 2.03.41 PMYesterday, Merriam-Webster announced the 150 new words that will be added to its dictionary in 2014. They include selfie, turducken, big data… and fracking.

Yes, fracking. Not frac or fraccing. For the past five years, the country has been dividing on how to spell the word. The industry has long used frac (no k). The public, and specifically anti-fracking activists, have favored frack. Here’s what I wrote in The Boom:

Even the spelling of frack is divisive. The November 2008 issue of the Sylvanian, a newsletter from the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, ran side-by-side letters to the editor. A geologist wrote in support of “fracing,” while a worried resident called it “fracking.” It was a sign of the brewing linguistic civil war.

The dictionary’s choice of frack is both understandable and symbolic. No matter which side of the debate you’re on, everyone pronounces it with a hard -ack sound, like smack or thwack or track. The only word I can think of that ends in -ac and contains the same sound is cognac.

But there’s a symbolic resolution here. Fracking began as an industry term and tool. Insiders could define it because no one outside the petroleum clubhouse knew or cared about it. But when the technique went mainstream and began to dominate our energy debate, the public grabbed the word and took it away from insiders.

The industry lost the linguistic war. Will they also lose the broader war for the hearts and minds of Americans about fracking?


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