NFT Word of The Year

Abbreviation of ‘non-fungible token’, the ‘technicolour collision of art, technology and commerce [that] has broken through the COVID noise’ sees 11,000% + rise in usage

‘NFT’, the abbreviation of ‘non-fungible token’, the unique digital identifier that records ownership of a digital asset which has entered the mainstream and seen millions spent on the most sought-after images and videos, has been named Collins Word of the Year 2021. It is one of three tech-based words to make Collins’ longer list of ten words of the year, which includes seven words brand new to, (@CollinsDict).

Collins Dictionary’s lexicographers monitor the 15-billion-word Collins Corpus and create the annual list of new and notable words that reflect our ever-evolving language and the preoccupations of those who use it. They chose ‘NFT’ as Word of the Year as it demonstrates a ‘unique technicolour collision of art, technology and commerce’ that has ‘broken through the COVID noise’ to become ubiquitous throughout the year. Any digital creation – a picture, a video, a piece of music, even a tweet – can become an NFT; the term refers to a certificate of ownership of a piece, registered on a blockchain (a digital ledger of transactions). The most valuable NFT, by digital artist Beeple, was sold for £50.3m at Christie’s in March, while Damien Hirst’s ‘The Currency’ project offers owners the choice between an NFT or the original painting from which the digital image was created – whichever is chosen, the other is destroyed. NFTs have begun to cross over into popular culture, with NFTs being issued alongside the new James Bond film and by DC Comics of popular comic book covers including Batman and Wonder Woman.

‘NFT’ saw a 11,273% rise in usage in 2021. Another tech-related word included in Collins’ longer list of ten words of the year is ‘crypto’, the short form of ‘cryptocurrency’ (such as Bitcoin, Ethereum and others), which has seen an increase of 468% year on year. ‘Metaverse’ describes a three-dimensional virtual world, and was coined by author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Usage increased twelvefold since 2020, as it becomes the go-to phrase to describe the evolution of the internet and human interaction with virtual domains – the rebranding of Facebook’s owner to ‘Meta’ a recent example.

‘Lockdown’ was the 2020 Word of the Year and the influence of the COVID pandemic on the language remains strong, with three related words making this year’s list: ‘pingdemic’ (brand new this year) emerged when people using an NHS app were ‘pinged’ to self-isolate following contact with someone with a confirmed case, causing disruption around the country; ‘hybrid working’ denotes the mixture of commuting to a workplace and working from home that has become the norm for countless workers and companies; and ‘double-vaxxed’ refers to anyone who has received two doses of one of the COVID vaccines developed and distributed so rapidly since the start of the pandemic.

Climate change has given us two recent words of the year in ‘single-use’ (2018) and ‘climate strike’ (2019), and remains a key area of concern. This year, the term ‘climate anxiety’ has made the list, reflecting people’s growing concerns about climate change and perceived lack of action to tackle it. Ongoing conversations over gender and the representation of trans and non-binary people has led to a rise in usage of ‘neopronouns’ (such as ‘xe/xer’, ‘thon’ and ‘fae’), and ‘neopronoun’ is another word on this year’s list.

Two words also new to the Collins Corpus this year complete this year’s list. ‘Regencycore’ relates to the recent influence shows such as Bridgerton have had on fans and fashion, and ‘cheugy’ is a slang term used to describe, and dismiss, anything seen as hopelessly uncool or unfashionable. Let it never be said of the Dictionary.

Alex Beecroft, MD Collins Learning said: ‘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. Its unique technicolour collision of art, technology, and commerce has broken through the COVID noise with dramatic effect. 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.

Collins Dictionary definitions

  • NFT abbreviation for   1. non-fungible token: a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible. noun 2 .an asset whose ownership is recorded by means of a non-fungible token: the artist sold the work as an NFT
  • cheugy (ˈtʃuːɡɪ) adjective, slang no longer regarded as cool or fashionable
  • climate anxiety (ˈklaɪmət æŋˈzaɪɪtɪ) noun, a state of distress caused by concern about climate change
  • crypto (ˈkrɪptəʊ) noun, informal short for cryptocurrency: a decentralized digital medium of exchange which is created, regulated, and exchanged using cryptography and (usually) open-source software, and typically used to for online purchases
  • double-vaxxed (ˌdʌbəlˈvækst) adjective, informal having received two vaccinations against a disease. Also: double-jabbed
  • hybrid working (ˌhaɪbrɪd ˈwɜːkɪŋ) noun, the practice of alternating between different working environments, such as from home and in an office
  • metaverse (ˈmɛtəˌvɜːs) noun, a proposed version of the internet that incorporates three-dimensional virtual environments
  • neopronoun (ˌniːəʊˈprəʊˌnaʊn) noun, a recently coined pronoun, especially one designed to avoid gender distinctions
  • pingdemic (ˌpɪŋˈdɛmɪk) noun, informal the large-scale notification of members of the public by a contact-tracing app
  • Regencycore (ˈriːdʒənsɪˌkɔː) noun, a style of dress inspired by clothes worn in high society during the Regency period (1811–20). Also called: Regency chic