This Is Why “Cryptocurrency” Will Never Last
Cryptocurrencies (the technology) are transforming the world, but “cryptocurrency” (the word) will never last. That’s because it is a terrible word.
Words matter, especially when it comes to new technologies. If you want your technology to cross the chasm from early adopters to the great masses, your technology name needs to combine the familiar and the new. Consumers need a reference point.
Take the introduction of “electronic mail.” Even if you didn’t understand the first thing about how electronic mail worked, the name told you that it was somehow like postal mail: it was communication between two people, on a computer.
Or take the first automobiles, which were called “horseless carriages.” Over time, we shortened this to the word “cars.” Today, we’re building on that word to call them “self-driving cars.” In both cases, the formula is the same: take a familiar technology, then add a descriptor.
The choice of descriptor is important, because it needs to sell the technology to the consumer. Everyone understands that a “smartphone” is like a traditional phone, but smarter. A “digital assistant” is like a human assistant, but cheaper. Who doesn’t want gadgets that are smarter and cheaper?
In this sense, “cryptocurrency” seems to fit the bill: it’s like a traditional currency, but based on cryptography. Which would be great, if the average consumer knew the first thing about cryptography.
Tales From the Crypt
Ask the average consumer about cryptography, and they might mention World War II codebreakers. If they’re tech-savvy, maybe they know about PGP. Many people don’t know the first thing about cryptography, or even how to pronounce it. (“CryptoGRAphy?”)
Worse, many people will hear the word “crypt,” which is not a word that exactly inspires confidence. When considering where to store your money, most wouldn’t choose where we store human remains. And this guy would be your banker:
The root of the word is the Latin “crypta,” which means “hidden” or “secret.” Many consumers might hear the word “cryptic,” which of course means “difficult to understand.” Imagine a new technology called ConfusingTech, which would be only a little worse than “cryptocurrency.”
Somehow, the “o” at the end of “crypto” makes it worse. We use an “o” to describe someone who is unbalanced or deranged: psycho, nympho, pedo, cheapo, bozo. It’s not a good suffix. You don’t want to be called a word ending in “o.”
For the average investor, then, “cryptocurrency” could be best translated as “dead, crazy money.” But it gets worse.
The Five-Syllable Mouthful
There’s another reason the word “cryptocurrency” will never last: it’s too damn long.
Consider “electronic mail,” eventually shortened to “e-mail,” then just “email.” A sure sign of a technology’s acceptance is the introduction of the hyphen, which will be used by journalists until the technology becomes ubiquitous enough to just turn it into a word.
The fact is that “cryptocurrency” is too long. If we really want a technology to catch on, the name needs to be short and friendly: one or two syllables is ideal. Television became “TV.” Telephones became “phones.” High-fidelity stereo became “hifi,” which is even better, because it rhymes.
How do you shorten “cryptocurrency”? You can’t. Some are using “token” as the shorter alternative, but “token” does not combine the familiar and the new. Plus, a “token” is some limited store of marginal value, like a subway or videogame token. A “token offering” or a “token gesture” is small.
The word should be small, but who wants to think small? Do you really want the future value of your “token” not to exceed twenty-five cents?
It’s time for a better word.
A Better Alternative
Fortunately, we already have a better word: altcoins.
It’s obvious that “bitcoin” is the digital currency with the best-recognized brand name. While the average person still may not understand what it is, they have at least heard of bitcoin. They know what a “coin” is, and are probably familiar with “bits” as a computer term. Bit + coin = “computer money.”
“Altcoin” sounds so similar to “bitcoin” that it’s an easy mental leap. “Alt” comes from “alternative,” which is an excellent way of describing these technologies: they are both alternatives to bitcoin, and alternatives to traditional money.
“Altcoin” is just two syllables, and it’s easy to pronounce. It’s fun to say “altcoin” (try it now, out loud). Best of all, it’s already dehyphenated (though you can expect some small-town newspapers to start calling them “alt-coins”).
And what the small-town newspapers will call these new technologies matters a lot. In order for the altcoin industry to reach its full potential, it’s got to reach critical mass. Altcoins need to be bought, sold, and used by as many people as possible. It’s in our best interest to make them accessible.
Our goal should be to encourage widespread adoption of bitcoin and blockchain-related technologies to the everyday investors, not to keep these technologies to ourselves. “Altcoins” are our best alternative.
Sir John Hargrave is publisher of the investment website Bitcoin Market Journal, which specializes in both bitcoin and altcoins.