News In Brief

Oil Industry Jargon can be fun

Krissy Clark Jul 22, 2010

Bottom Kill, Operation Sombrero, Junk Shot.

Are these words used to describe techniques for fighting oil spills or having sex?

That’s the question posed in this hilarious (but off-color, so don’t say I didn’t warn you) quiz from a blog called Mind Grapes. Etymologist Grant Barrett tipped me off to it when I was doing research for my chat with Kai today on Marketplace about the history of oil industry lingo.

Of course every industry has its jargon, but the words repeated daily on news shows (including ours) to describe what’s going on in the Gulf of Mexico seem to have a special flair. Many of these words have a long history in the oil and gas industry.

Nolan Hart, an oil field veteran who’s doodlebugged and visited the monkeyboard like the best of them, has compiled a delightful glossary of oil field terms and slang. Some of my favorites:

Possum Belly. Worm. And the verb to “Nipple up.” Check his glossary for the definitions.

Amateur word-sleuthing can be addictive. Once Grant the Etymologist revealed a few tricks of the trade (google books is a great tool for hunting down early citations), I was hooked. Turns out that amusing/horrifying phrase, “Junk Shot,” was used as early as 1923, in the annual report of the California State Oil and Gas Supervisor.

The junk shot technique — if you can call dumping garbage into a hole a “technique” — also turned up in Upton Sinclair’s 1927 book Oil! (basis for that movie with Daniel Day Lewis from a few years back, There Will Be Blood). There’s a well blowout in Sinclair’s book, based on a true story, that lasts a full year. There weren’t any golf balls to throw into the well back then, but workers tried plugging the thing with tools, rope, and shoes.

After all this research on oil jargon, I started wondering what other industries or subcultures have good lingo. (For example, If there was a knitting disaster in the gulf right now instead of an oil spill, we could be hearing about frogging, puddling, U.F.O.’s (unfinished objects) and S.E.X. (stash excursions). Read more here.

Got any good lingo to share from your job or hobby?

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