The Bitcoin Word Game

How specific words and phrases are being crafted in an attempt to shape the public's perception of bitcoin.

AccessTimeIconApr 18, 2014 at 3:02 p.m. UTC
Updated Sep 11, 2021 at 10:40 a.m. UTC
10 Years of Decentralizing the Future
May 29-31, 2024 - Austin, TexasThe biggest and most established global event for everything crypto, blockchain and Web3.Register Now

Words are very important. Even more so with bitcoin, competing constituencies craft specific words and phrases to evoke a predetermined image or outcome.

With a little help from political wordsmith observer Bill Maher, let's look at some popular examples of this practice in action.

Avoiding the negative

For a long time, assisted suicide as a positive right with legal protections had a difficult time gaining acceptance. Once it was phrased as aid in dying, several US states passed legislation protecting the practice.

Gay marriage is another. Political opponents deployed the phrase when they wanted to convey the idea that the sanctity of marriage was under assault or its meaning was being diluted. Once it became termed marriage equality, it was difficult to be against because it then sounded trendy, inclusive and friendly. Everyone is for equality.

Lastly, when we hear the phrase drilling for oil, we imagine huge nameless corporations raping the wilderness to satiate an out-of-control demand for fossil fuel. However, re-brand it as energy exploration and we visualize a futuristic and responsible effort to transform our planet's energy needs.

Steering public perception

In the evolving lexicon that is bitcoin, governments and the media consistently deploy phrases to gain an advantage in steering public perception. No secrets there. But, few of us can peer through the facade.

Here are some of the easy ones:

Privacy has become anonymity. Of course, people desire privacy and they rightly should take it for granted, but the word anonymous implies that it is secrecy being used for something nefarious.

Personal purchases have now become untraceable transactions. Remember that first drug store item that you wanted to keep as a personal purchase, so you made sure that no one saw you and that you used cash.

Finality of payment has become irreversibility. In the eyes of regulators, irreversibility has come to be associated with criminal transactions because who else would see the need for a transaction irreversible by a third party. Of course, this is ridiculous because many transaction classes have a proper need for payment finality.


Interestingly, this choice of wording permits opponents to cast bitcoin as anonymous, untraceable, and irreversible – all fitting into the dark persona of the notorious Guy Fawkes mask.

By the way, paper cash in your wallet today already possesses those attributes (analog equivalent rights), which is why we are witnessing a global war on cash or, as its proponents claim, a modern cashless society.

Moving into the regulatory sphere – and no jurisdiction is exempt – the stakes are higher, so predictably the labels have become more elevated.

Financial privacy has become money laundering. More than 30 years ago, money laundering did not exist because it is a made-up crime, as Doug Casey says, and the so-called thoughtcrime of finance. Unfortunately, individuals seeking financial privacy have been cast as promoters of money laundering ever since.

Financial surveillance has been re-branded as patriotic anti-money laundering and know-your-customer guidelines. Realistically, it is still surveillance on a mass scale whatever you choose to call it.

Financial censorship has been re-positioned as an economic blockade, as in the international cases against WikiLeaks, Iran, and most recently Russia.

A positive spin

Every day, more and more young people embrace bitcoin. This is an encouraging demographic for the future of the cryptocurrency and they get it too.

For them, no government backing really means banks not required. Ignoring capital controls really means truly global with 24/7 availability. No third party for safety really means protection from financial surveillance. And, not centrally controlled really means easy person-to-person payments. Those are the things that matter most to that important demographic.

In economics, deflation is just another way of saying increased purchasing power.

In money, legitimacy is defined by community acceptance not by government decree. Triumphantly, bitcoin is money without government. If we don't defend ourselves in the word game, all that remains are the sheeple lest we be called domestic terrorists.

Please add your own important bitcoin words in the comments area below.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, CoinDesk.

Follow the author on Twitter.

photo via Shutterstock.


Please note that our privacy policy, terms of use, cookies, and do not sell my personal information has been updated.

CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that covers the cryptocurrency industry. Its journalists abide by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by the Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, digital assets exchange. The Bullish group is majority-owned by; both companies have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary with an editorial committee to protect journalistic independence. CoinDesk employees, including journalists, may receive options in the Bullish group as part of their compensation.

Learn more about Consensus 2024, CoinDesk's longest-running and most influential event that brings together all sides of crypto, blockchain and Web3. Head to to register and buy your pass now.