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Most Dictionaries Have Multiple Entries Describing Bitcoin

Most dictionaries online include the definition for the word Bitcoin, but the prestigious Oxford Dictionaries have recently added the word blockchain too. While one entry into a dictionary could very well be an indication of a fad; but three points to a possible trend.

Oxford University Press publishes many different types of dictionaries, in print and online. Two of their distinct online services include the traditional Oxford English Dictionary Online (OED) and

According to the publishers, the OED is a “historical dictionary and it forms a record of all the core words and meanings in English over more than 1,000 years, from Old English to the present day, and including many obsolete and historical terms.” The OxfordDictionaries site, on the other hand, is a modern English dictionary service, and the only one new words can be found in.

“The OED and the dictionaries in Oxford Dictionaries are themselves very different. While Oxford Dictionaries focuses on the current language and practical usage, the OED shows how words and meanings have changed over time.”
— – Oxford English Dictionary

In a recent quarterly update, Oxford University Press announced a list of 46 new words from a wide variety of topics added to its free online dictionary of current English, and this quarter they’ve chosen to include the word ‘blockchain.’

This addition comes two years after the words ‘bitcoin’ was added, in August 2013. The term was originally defined as “a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank,” but was later modified to “a type of digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank.”

In May 2014, the word ‘cryptocurrency’ was also added, with the definition very similar to that of bitcoin, “a digital currency in which encryption techniques are used to regulate the generation of units of currency and verify the transfer of funds, operating independently of a central bank”.

“New words, senses, and phrases are added to when we have gathered enough independent evidence from a wide range of sources to be sure that they have widespread currency in the English language.”
— – Angus Stevenson, Project Editor for English Dictionaries at Oxford University Press

Selecting the new words to add to OxfordDictionaries is a painstaking task. All words considered are derived from a range of large and structured set of texts, or corpora. “We do much of this research using a range of corpora, including the Oxford English Corpus, our unique language monitoring programme that represents all types of English, from literary novels and specialist journals to everyday newspapers and magazines, and from Hansard to the language of blogs, emails, and social media,” Stevenson explained.

The word Bitcoin is also included in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the largest English-language dictionary from Oxford University Press. This dictionary is aimed specifically at those who wish to learn the English language.

In the Learner’s Dictionary Bitcoin is defined quite differently, "a system of electronic money, used for buying and selling online and without the need for a central bank.”

Neither cryptocurrency nor blockchain is included in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary. Words in both the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and the Oxford Advanced American Dictionary are “chosen on the basis of their frequency and usefulness for learners of English,” and some words are excluded because they are “rare or specialized.”

While OED boasts, “the largest record of words used in English, past and present” with more than 615,000 words from over a thousand years, the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is an English as a Second Language (ESL) teaching tool, which only has 145,000 words explained simplistically and clearly.

A quick look through the other major online dictionaries shows that the word Bitcoin has taken hold across all of them, excepting only Merriam-Webster. The word is defined in resources from Cambridge to Collins to the Urban Dictionary. MacMillan defines Bitcoin as: “a virtual currency created for use in online transactions,” while other sites define the difference between ‘Bitcoin’ the network and ‘bitcoin’ the unit of currency.

Meanwhile, none of these dictionaries have joined Oxford in adding the word ‘blockchain.’ Cambridge, Collins, MacMillan, and the Urban dictionary have all listed the word ‘cryptocurrency.’


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