Shale Gas and Lexicography: NSFW?

A recent piece on NPR’s Morning Edition contained a startling assertion: that the proper shortened name for the method of natural gas extraction known as hydraulic fracturing is “frac’ing.” Contractions, of course, have a long and distinguished history in English writing, but they don’t typically come in the middle of gerunds. The maker of this assertion is Larry Fulmer, an employee of the energy industry, who feels that the more commonly used “fracking” was dreamed up by opponents of the process. “Fracking” bears an unflattering resemblance to “fucking,” you see, and that pun is played out in any number of ways at environmental demonstrations across the country.*

Some bewildered lexicographers from Merriam-Webster make a cameo—the fact that they added the k-spelling to the dictionary this month apparently having provided the inspiration for the piece—but they ultimately provide a possible peaceable solution as well. While “fracking” is the current dictionary spelling, they will “have their eye on” any variations in the future.

*The story doesn’t note that, before fracking was a well-known issue, “frak” (and variations) was used as a stand-in for “fuck” on the popular science fiction show “Battlestar Galactica.”