This study examined how the terms used to describe climate change influence landholder acceptability judgements and attitudes toward climate change at the local scale. Telephone surveys were conducted with landholders from viticultural (n = 97) or cereal growing (n = 195) backgrounds in rural South Australia. A variety of descriptive and inferential statistics were used to examine the influence of human-induced climate change and winter/spring drying trend terms on adaptation responses and uncertainties surrounding climate change science. We found that the terms used to describe climate change leads to significant differences in adaptation response and levels of scepticism surrounding climate change in rural populations. For example, those respondents who accepted human induced climate change as a reality were significantly more likely to invest in technologies to sow crops earlier or increase the amount of water stored or harvested on their properties than respondents who accepted the winter/spring drying trend as a reality. The results have implications for the targeting of climate change science messages to both rural landholders and communities of practice involved in climate change adaptation planning and implementation.