What is needed is an electronic payment system…allowing any two willing parties to transact directly with each other without the need for a trusted third party.
—Satoshi Yakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin
Is Bitcoin destined to become the Facebook of money, or the Second Life? That is, will Bitcoin become universal, a medium of exchange used by just about everyone, or will it remain a curiosity, a tool used only by a dedicated fringe (in Bitcoin’s case, criminals and privacy extremists)? As a mere language columnist, I haven’t the foggiest, but I can tell you that, no matter what its fate, Bitcoin is generating new words and phrases at an inflationary rate. Is this profusion of new terms undermining (that’s a pun, as you’ll see) Bitcoin’s quest for universality?
The confusion begins at the beginning, with the simple act of categorization: What is Bitcoin, exactly? The person known as Satoshi Yakamoto, who invented Bitcoin back in 2008, called it electronic cash. Other terms in use are cryptocurrency, virtual currency, digital currency, digital cash, and math-based currency. (This last term reminds me of