Collins Dictionary announced Wednesday that “NFT” has been chosen as its Word of the Year in consideration of the fact that NFT’s usage has increased 11,000 percent in 2021, while digital assets like cryptocurrencies keep on gaining mainstream acceptance.
“It’s unusual for an abbreviation to experience such a meteoric rise in usage, but the data we have from the Collins Corpus reflects the remarkable ascendancy of the NFT in 2021,” said Collins Learning managing director Alex Beecroft to The Guardian. “NFTs seem to be everywhere, from the arts sections to the financial pages and in galleries and auction houses and across social media platforms. Whether the NFT will have a lasting influence is yet to be determined, but its sudden presence in conversations around the world makes it very clearly our word of the year.”
NFT stands for non-fungible token, and the Collins’ definition is “a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible.”
NFTs help prove ownership of unique assets, acting like virtual signatures. A chunk of digital data, NFTs can be used to prove authenticity of assets like an artwork as the blockchain serves to verify ownership. Even though multiple replications of the artwork are produced, the original owner can be traced through the blockchain. NFTs can be used to own digital assets like a viral video or a tweet, and this asset can be bought and sold just like a piece of art.
Collins lexicographers, the people who compile dictionaries, monitor a corpus of 4.5 billion words to make their final selection. NFT won the title because it demonstrated a “unique technicolour collision of art, technology and commerce,” according to The Guardian.
Besides NFT, other tech words to make it into the dictionary are “crypto,” an abbreviation of cryptocurrency, and “metaverse,” made popular through Facebook’s rebranding into a virtual world provider. The other Top 10 words for 2021 are cheugy, climate anxiety, double-vaxxed, hybrid working, neopronoun, pingdemic and Regencycore.
One of the most famous examples of NFT is that of a digital art creation by graphic designer Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple. An NFT for Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” art collection sold for $69.3 million in March, ranking Winkelmann as “among the top three most valuable living artists,” by Christie’s auction house. This transaction by Christie’s also legitimized NFT as a technology, reported The Verge.
Other examples include that of Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey selling an NFT of his first tweet, “just setting up my twttr,” for $2.9 million. Musician and artist Grimes sold a digital artwork collection for approximately $6 million and the NFT for an original photo of the Disaster Girl meme was sold for $473,000.
Detractors of the technology say that NFTs create an illusion of ownership as the physical item, if there is one, does not change hands. It’s only the digital version that gets bought, leading to speculation that innumerable copies can be produced without the consent of the original owner, and the value that’s given to the NFT is artificial.
Other issues include money laundering, which is often leveled against cryptocurrencies, and the fact that blockchain technologies consume large amounts of energy.