Bitcoin vs bitcoin

Satoshi, I have the hugest respect for your genius and insight. To come up with such a complex yet fundamentally simple solution that is both utopian and practical must have taken years of deep thought and flashes of brilliance. Plus, you write very well. But, seriously… why “bitcoin”? There are no coins involved. And while us geeks understand the “bit”, to the rest of the world it implies “small”. As in “a little bit”, or “a bit of luck”.

It’s catchy, though, and does roll off the tongue in a clumsily elegant mix of consonants that is not hard to pronounce. That is useful. My main complaint concerns the fundamental question that those of us who write about bitcoin have been grappling with and arguing about: to capitalize, or not to capitalize? Is it bitcoin, or Bitcoin?

by Todd Quackenbush for Unsplash
by Todd Quackenbush for Unsplash

So far I have been careful to use Bitcoin when talking about the system or the concept. Bitcoin as a name for an idea. Bitcoin as a title. But I switch to lower case when talking about the currency, the piece of code, the “thing”. Bitcoin the system, vs. a bitcoin, the unit.

And it’s very confusing. Some writers I follow seem to have similar struggles, and others don’t even bother. I remember that we all went through similar confusion when we started writing about the internet. Or was it the Internet? Is the internet a thing, or a concept?

Like bitcoin, it turned out to be both. Now you hardly ever see the capitalized version, which means that we have paid it the highest compliment of incorporating it into daily vocabulary without the elitism of the capital letter. You know that something is mainstream when it drops its capital letter.

So I have decided to pay the same compliment to bitcoin. I’m perhaps ahead of the reasonable timeline here, but I’m dropping the capital B. From now on, I will write bitcoin the concept and bitcoin the thing the same way. I hope that everyone will not only understand, but also join me in doing the same. Maybe, just maybe, this can be our little tiny contribution to bringing forward the day that bitcoin is part of the daily conversation, worthy of its lowercase status. When that day comes, I imagine that we’ll all laugh at how formal we once were.

And as for the name, I totally understand. Like Terry Pratchett once said in an interview as his books started flying off the shelves: “If I knew I was going to attract this much attention, I’d have written better books.” I imagine that if you knew bitcoin was going to get this big, you would have spent more time on the name.

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