Cryptocurrency is a domain of jargon. ‘Blockchains,’ ‘full nodes,’ ‘miners,’ ‘nonces,’ ‘side-chains’: these are only a few of the terms in crypto that are known to cause confusion and disagreement.
Not only does the ambiguity of vocab undermine the ability of people within crypto to communicate with each other, but it also arguably turns off people on the outside who might otherwise be interested in delving further.
Cryptonews.com has spoken to a variety of industry figures to find out what some of the most confusing crypto terms are, as well as what can potentially be done to make the sector’s language clearer. Many believe that much of the issue will be resolved the more mainstream crypto becomes, while others argue that the sector needs to actively work towards standardizing meanings.
Back in late July, a Twitter discussion between developer Udi Wertheimer and FTX CEO Sam Bankman-Fried underlined just how misleading certain terms can be.
Wertheimer and Bankman-Fried differed on the meaning of “sidechain”, something which made it harder for them to discuss what they were actually intending to discuss. And, as Wertheimer suggests at the end, “sidechain” isn’t the only confusing term used within crypto.
CoinShare’s Head of Research Christopher Bendiksen agrees that crypto’s vocab isn’t always entirely clear. He told Cryptonews.com:
“Yes, the language in the crypto sector is ambiguous, and it’s a problem that limits not only our ability to correctly formulate appropriate questions, but it also prevents us from being able to properly analyse and debate important technical issues.”
Bendiksen also suggests that ambiguity may often “limit the virality of the ideas [within crypto] and therefore the speed of their spread through the population,” although he doesn’t think this is the major factor preventing crypto’s wider dissemination and adoption.
While a full list of ambiguous or not wholly clear terms would be beyond the scope of this article, Bendiksen names some of his “worst offenders.”
First up is “full node.”
He says, “This is the biggest one in my opinion—I am of the belief that a full node is a node that has validated the entire history of its blockchain from genesis, not merely one that has validated block headers, and not merely one that validates ongoing transactions from a trusted starting point. Full sync is necessary.”
Another is “miner.”
Bendisken, says, “is it a block-producing node, a hashing machine, a mining operation, or a person controlling such an operation?”
One interesting pair is “fast” and “slow” in the context of blockchains. According to Bendiksen, this can refer to having shorter block intervals, or it can refer to how quickly a blockchain can provide settlement assurance (i.e. finality).
“As an example, Bitcoin is often called ’slow’ but in fact it is the fastest system based on settlement assurance,” he says. “When we say ‘fast’ or ’slow’ we need to clarify what we mean by that. Having a 5 second block interval is meaningless if those blocks can be recreated effectively free of cost.”
Other industry figures highlight other terms. Bitcoin SV (BSV) developer Brendan Lee suggests that “much of the vocabulary in crypto is very misleading,” and that even basic terms like “blockchain” are frequently used to refer to different things.
“The miners between themselves decide what goes on the blockchain. This is Nakamoto consensus. Their job is to make public records of transactions that took place,” he says. “Anyone telling you that their application writes to the blockchain misunderstands the nature of the technology to the point of thinking they play a part in the process of validating and deciding how the system works.”
Lee also takes issue with the use of “value,” although in this case his objection highlights how much of the ‘ambiguity’ in crypto results from arguably ideological differences.
“The market cap metric used to value crypto coins is very misleading,” he says. “While BTC has a speculative market cap in the hundreds of billions, it would be impossible to extract even a tiny fraction of that total amount without causing total devastation to the market and damaging the network, potentially beyond repair.”
Crypto terms can also confuse people outside of crypto, as suggested to Cryptonews.com by Luis Cuede, co-founder of Switzerland-based decentralized services platform Aragon.
“I was talking to people outside of crypto and mentioning the term ‘nonce,’ used in crypto and specifically Ethereum to order transactions in an account,” he says. “Apparently, the term also means ‘a person convicted of a sexual offence, especially against a child’ in English. We should probably re-think some of these terms we use in crypto!”
“The crypto vocabulary will become more standardized once it becomes mainstream,” says Ashish Singhal, the founder and CEO of Indian exchangeCoinSwitch Kuber. “At least that seems to be the case until now.”
Singhal suggests that one way to standardize the terminology is to promote industry-wide definitions and glossaries. This is the view taken by Christopher Bendiksen, who believes that adoption alone won’t be enough to resolve ambiguities.
“This is where forums, conferences, seminars etc. are highly useful,” Bendiksen says. “Over time though, I think we’ll inevitably coalesce on certain common meanings of words purely from the fact that the ‘better’ meanings of words will enable more fruitful idea synthesis, topical analysis, and debate, and from there, natural selection will favour them.”