Let’s immediately get one thing straight. If you’ve come here for an in-depth financial analysis of Bitcoins, you’re in the wrong place. But welcome anyway, have a look around. I’m sure you’ll find these offerings on financial haircuts, Greece or Fiscal Cliffs were worth the visit.
If you’re here for the more usual Wordability fare of finding out about new words, then let me tell you more. Bitcoin is not a new word per se, having first been used at the start of 2009. It emerged from research published the year before by Japanese developer Satoshi Nakamoto. But despite its history, the word is certainly novel for many of us, and its sudden emergence into the mainstream may see it being recognised as one of the words of the year.
So what is a Bitcoin? Basically, if I am understanding it correctly, it is a form of electronic currency, protected by a complex algorithm and limited to a maximum number of units. The reason you might have now heard of it is that investors are suddenly ploughing into them as the next potentially safe haven for their cash. Forget gold, it is said, Bitcoins are the new investment bling.
With prices rocketing from a few dollars to over $140, news outlets have been falling over themselves to explain them and debate them, while hackers have already been out to try and destroy them.
I clearly don’t profess to know what the future of Bitcoin is, and whether it will prove to be an investment flash in the pan or the future of money. But either way, it is now enjoying its moment in the sun, meaning that this is the year in which its place in the financial lexicon will be secured.
There is a late entrant in the word of the year stakes. More likely, there is a front-runner for the 2013 crown. It is becoming hard to avoid the Fiscal Cliff.
The Fiscal Cliff is a term that has been coined to describe a looming financial precipice in the United States. It is a confluence of coming togethers of the end of certain tax laws and a decrease in Government spending, and commentators are worried about the effect on the US economy if legislation is not passed which could prevent all of this from happening.
Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the US Federal Reserve, is being credited with coining the phrase, having used it in evidence to the House Financial Services Commission at the end of February. He actually isn’t the first, as it appeared in analysis of George Bush’s tax cuts two years after the end of his presidency. But there is no doubt that Mr Bernanke’s usage put the term on the linguistic map.
That said, it is only in the last few weeks that it has found its way into general conversation and started appearing in earnest across the media. Given that the fiscal cliff is just around the corner, that is not really a surprise.
Maybe what is a surprise is that the term has simply been accepted and is being used by everybody, probably without really understanding it. I feel the same way about it as I did about haircut entering the vernacular last year – a term that was popular among economic commentators crossed over into the mainstream and using it seemed to confer some kind of special, inside knowledge on the users, it is almost said with a nod and a wink to those also on the inside.
For the rest of us, we hear it and then have to go and look it up and try and understand it. Shorthand phrases are good for encapsulating stories and letting everybody know what the subject is, but when they are used regularly in conversation as if everybody knows what they mean, then that can become annoying.
Thank goodness the Simpsons have been around to help explain it.