Crypto Semantics

In cryptocurrency sometimes terms get used loosely or one term gets used in place of another. Let’s discuss some crypto semantics.

One example of what I mean is the term cryptocurrency itself.

When talking about crypto technology the broad class of crypto-based widgets is best described as crypto assets or digital assets. This is because not every crypto token is meant to be used as a currency. Still, it is common to call the class of widgets crypto or cryptocurrency. Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, sometimes they are used specifically.

Blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) have the same sort of relationship as cryptocurrencies and crypto assets. Blockchain is a very specific type of Distributed Ledger Technology. So Distributed Ledger Technologies is a class of things, and Blockchain is a subset of that, and Bitcoin’s Blockchain is a subset of that. Still, in common conversation, one might call all DLT “Blockchain” or one might say “Blockchain” even thought they are specifically talking about Bitcoin’s Blockchain.

Tokens fall into the same trap. The reality of tokens in crypto is that there are MANY types of tokens to reference when talking about a crypto. Cryptos are value tokens, they exist as cryptographic data called tokens, the computer security technology behind cryptos tokenizes data, sometimes we call cryptos that live on another crypto’s ledger “tokens,” etc. The term token can be used to generally talking about all of this or to talk specifically about any of this… often you’ll have no warning as to the specific meaning out side of context.

Given those examples, the overarching rules here I would say are this:

  1. Context is king. If you know what a person is talking about from context, then specific terms used shouldn’t matter all that much in casual conversation or debate.
  2. It can come off as rather abrasive (said politely) to demand people use the correct terms when they are using a close enough place holder.

Simply put, not everyone knows to say “crypto assets” and “distributed ledger technology”… but many know how to say “cryptocurrencies” and “blockchain.” The first set of terms may be more correct in certain situations, but the second gets close enough for most situations.

Ultimately it is the difference between asking for tissue paper or a Kleenex, in most cases, it really doesn’t matter if the context is clear outside of a professional presentation. Instead, it all boils down to a matter of semantics in most settings.

For more crypto terms, see a list of crypto terms.

Author: Thomas DeMichele

Thomas DeMichele has been working in the cryptocurrency information space since 2015 when was created. He has contributed to MakerDAO, Alpha Bot (the number one crypto bot on Discord),...