The Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the most prestigious English dictionary in the world, just embraced the terms of “satoshi” and “cryptocurrency,” showing how much Bitcoin and its spawn have successfully entered toward mainstream society.
Published by Oxford University Press, the OED is a sprawling British-centric historical dictionary that tracks how English has evolved over time. In its October 2019 update, the text’s editors noted several dozen new entries, among them the aforementioned crypto terms.
The editors went on to highlight the historical company that satoshi, which the OED now formally defines as “the smallest monetary unit in the Bitcoin digital payment system, equal to one hundred millionth of a bitcoin,” was joining:
“Among the earliest additions this quarter is an adverbial sense of ange (expressing a feeling of distress or anxiety) found … over a thousand years ago, while the most recent was first used less than seven years ago: a satoshi is the smallest monetary unit in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency, and is named after Satoshi Nakamoto, the—probably pseudonymous—developer(s) of Bitcoin.”
In other words, the OED as an institution now deems the smallest denomination of bitcoin part of the bedrock of the English language, even though that denomination was only first proposed in 2011. How’s that for catching on fast?
Rather than death by 1,000 paper cuts, the story of Bitcoin has been a case of societal acceptance by 1,000 legitimizations. The OED’s embrace of satoshi suggests a widening cultural recognition of bitcoin as a currency in the English speaking world and a sort of formal complement to the informal #StackingSats campaign that’s done much to popularize the satoshi unit in recent months.
Notably, “bitcoin” itself was first defined by the OED back in 2014.
What About Cryptocurrency?
The popular dictionary now offers two formal definitions for cryptocurrency, the first of which is an “informal, substitute currency,” e.g. cigarettes in 1940s Poland, and is rarely used in practice according to the OED.
The second definition, the one we’re interested in, characterizes technology based money like bitcoin, ether, and beyond in the following way:
“Any of various digital payment systems operating independently of a central authority and employing cryptographic techniques to control and verify transactions in a unique unit of account; (also) the units of account of such a system, considered collectively.”
It’s a fitting addition, insofar as the word cryptocurrency has exploded in usage over the past few years and has been taken up in financial, banking, and regulatory circles outside of the cryptoeconomy.
A Meticulous Process Goes Into These Additions
Before words like satoshi can go into the OED, they must first be added to the dictionary’s watch list, which is grown through automated analyses, crowdsourcing, and quotes collected by OED readers.
Once words on this watch list gain enough traction, they are assigned to OED editors who begin researching how the terms have evolved over time. The editor for a given word then puts together an entry and coordinates with other specialist teams like pronunciation experts to finalize a definition.
At this point, the OED’s top editors sign off on completed entries and pass them on for inclusion in the dictionary’s quarterly updates, like the October 2019 one that brought new crypto definitions.
In other words, the more a word is used, the higher the chances it will eventually be put on track to be added to the OED. These latest crypto additions are a positive adoption sign for bitcoin then, as satoshi wouldn’t have made it into the dictionary if people weren’t increasingly talking about the denomination.
It may be months or years yet before more cryptoverse terms make it into the dictionary, but further related additions seem all but inevitable now.