“NFT,” the abbreviation for non-fungible tokens — the digital assets that exploded in popularity and price this year, but have also faced steeped criticism for their contributions to global warming — fittingly beat out “climate anxiety” for dictionary publisher Collins’ Word of the Year.
In a blog post, Collins defined NFT as “a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or collectible.” The publisher said it chose “NFT” as its Word of the Year due to its ubiquity and the way the mixing of technology, art and commerce has “captured the public’s imagination.”
Indeed, over the past year, NFTs have gone from a niche interest in crypto communities to million dollar enterprises. They’ve taken the traditional art world by storm — the rights to a work by the artist Bettle sold at Christie’s for $69 million in March — and also grown increasingly popular in music, where industry figures and artists see the potential for new revenue streams and ways to engage fans.
But NFTs — like another Collins Word of the Year contender, “crypto” (short for cryptocurrency) — have also faced scrutiny for their steep environmental impact. An April analysis, for instance, estimated that minting and sending one NFT on the Ehtereum blockchain required the same amount of energy needed to power an average American household for one-and-a-half days. There are a handful of more environmentally friendly options available for minting and selling NFTs (such as processes like lazy minting and layer two, which you can read about more in this Rolling Stone piece), and the harm caused by NFTs is just one portion of tech’s much larger environmental footprint.
Still, it feels appropriate to these modern times, that what’s essentially a new asset bubble making a select few wealthy while contributing to the destruction of our planet, would beat out “climate anxiety” for Word of the Year. Collins devoted a couple sentences to the matter, including, “The climate crisis remains a preoccupation, particularly in the light of this year’s COP26, so it’s no surprise that climate anxiety makes it onto the list.”
Other words on Collins’ Word of the Year list include Covid-related words like “double-vaxxed,” “pingdemic” and “hybrid working.” There’s also “metaverse,” “cheugy,” “neopronoun” and “regencycore.”