From the intricacies of Altcoin and Fiat Money to understanding Hashing and Mining, here is a guide to cryptocurrency terminology.
Newcomers to the world of cryptocurrency might be baffled by the trading jargon – why HODL? What is a Whale? – but don’t panic, there’s a simple definition for everything.
If you keep hearing about “altcoin”, but can’t find a trading price, that’s because it doesn’t exist. Altcoin is simply a blend word, derived from “alternative” and “coin”, and refers to any digital currency that isn’t bitcoin.
The big one, created by the mysterious “Satoshi Nakamoto”, in 2008. Even now, despite the rise of a large number of altcoins, it’s still the currency that hogs the headlines.
In August 2017, bitcoin experienced its first “fork” (see below) and split into bitcoin and bitcoin cash – they are now two entirely separate currencies.
Block and blockchain
A block is one package of permanently recorded transaction data. After it is completed, it goes into a blockchain, which acts as a permanent database of all of the previous blocks of data.
A new block is then generated for new information to be stored on. Each block also contains a mathematical puzzle with a unique answer, and new blocks cannot be submitted to the blockchain without the answer.
This answer is what cryptocurrency “miners” (see below) are searching for.
On average, a new block is added to the blockchain through mining every 10 minutes. This block verifies any new transactions, a process known as confirmation.
Some vendors will require several confirmations from different blocks, depending on how large the transaction is.
Fiat currency is legal tender whose value is backed by the government that issued it, such as the US dollar or UK pound.
A fork creates alternate versions of the blockchain and then the split blockchain runs simultaneously on different parts of the network.
A “hard fork” renders prior invalid transactions valid, and vice versa; a “soft fork” renders previously valid transactions invalid, but not the inverse.
An acronym for “fear, uncertainty and doubt”. Used particularly on cryptocurrency forums as a put-down for naysayers who are “spreading FUD again”.
A physical device designed to store your cryptocurrency safely off your computer, essentially like a very sophisticated USB stick.
The process by which you mine bitcoin or similar cryptocurrency, by trying to solve the mathematical problem within it, using cryptographic hash functions.
Originally a typo on a cryptocurrency forum, when someone typed HODL instead of HOLD. Interpreted as “Hold On for Dear Life”, it’s become the battle cry of diehard cryptocurrency investors who believe that the investment will come good one day.
An acronym for Initial Coin Offering: a popular, and usually unregulated, way to raise cash for new cryptocurrency ventures.
A percentage of the new currency is sold to backers as blockchain “tokens” in return for more established cryptocurrencies.
The process of finding new bitcoins, which involves compiling recent transactions into blocks and trying to solve a computationally difficult puzzle through hashing.
A computer specially designed for mining cryptocurrencies.
Any computer connected to the bitcoin network is called a node. These nodes validate and relay transactions while receiving a copy of the full blockchain.
Public key / private key
A cryptographic code that allows a user to receive cryptocurrencies into an account. The public key is made available to everyone via a publicly accessible directory, and the private key remains confidential to its respective owner.
Because the key pair is mathematically related, whatever is encrypted with a public key may only be decrypted by its corresponding private key.
The smallest fraction of a bitcoin is called a “satoshi” or “sat”. It represents one hundred-millionth of a bitcoin and is named after Satoshi Nakamoto.
A wallet is where you “store” your bitcoins or other cryptocurrency – or to be more accurate, where you store the private keys used to access your public bitcoin address and sign for transactions.
A combination of the recipient’s public key and your private key is what makes a bitcoin transaction possible.
A software wallet stores these on a third-party server, or you can choose to store them in a desktop wallet downloaded on to your computer. The alternative is a specialist hardware wallet (see above).
When a new cryptocurrency is created through an ICO (see above), funders are given tokens of the new currency in return for their liquid cash or liquid cryptocurrency.
These tokens supposedly become currency units if – and when – the new currency targets are met and it launches.
As the name suggests, whales are the biggest swimmers in the cryptocurrency pond. Cryptocurrency traders and speculators use this term to describe the players who hold huge amounts of bitcoin.
Hence, it’s no surprise that Satoshi Nakamoto is the biggest whale of all. These whales have the ability to impact markets significantly when they buy or sell, so other traders watch for signs of their movements.