NFT is the Collins Dictionary Word of the Year. But what does that mean?

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Back in the days before the Internet, this is how a dictionary worked: you read or hear a word you didn’t know the meaning of, looked it up and voila! The light of new knowledge has poured into your mind. A wonderful side effect of this exercise was the discovery of new words while you were browsing. Now there’s no navigation – even curiosity is personalized, one searchable term at a time. But even the dictionary’s most basic purpose – telling people what a word means – is in tatters.

The Collins Dictionary’s “word of the year” for 2021 is “NFT” – an abbreviation that stands for “non-fungible token.” The reason for its selection would be the “meteoric” increase in its use over the past year. NFT is indeed one of the most popular fintech babbles that graced the page and the screen and its competitors were words like “crypto” and “metaverse”. But what is a non-fungible token? An NFT, according to the Collins Dictionary, is a “unique digital certificate, stored in a blockchain, which is used to register ownership of an asset such as a work of art or a collector’s item.”

Digital works of art have sold for exorbitant amounts in recent months and DTV seems to have something to do with it. However, the dictionary definition leaves no one wiser as to what they really are. Money? Authentication certificates for works of art? A digital medium of exchange? The answer is probably a bit of all of the above. It seems that an abbreviation is the word of the year due to its popularity – the outdated dictionary seems to want to ride the popularity of the tech wave to increase its publicity. Unfortunately, the ubiquity of the term is matched only by the opacity of its meaning – something Collins doesn’t help. No worries, however. After all, you can still search for it on Google.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on November 26, 2021 under the title “Dictionary definition”.


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