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Bitcoin is virtual coin, really hard to describe

April 22, 2013

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Bitcoin may be the most widely known cryptocurrency, but there are more than a thousand others, known as altcoins. (Photo via Pixabay.com user Make-someones-day)

Beware of bitcoin

Bitcoin* is all the rage. It’s extraordinarily difficult to write about because no one – including its creators – seems to be able to say exactly what it is. That makes it tough to come up with the nut graf**.

This would-be educational video takes a stab at it, but is almost comically confusing.

In essence it’s a virtual currency not unlike the digital currency one might use to get virtual goods or services in online games such as Farmville. (Discovery)

That doesn’t do it. There are apparently enough differences between Bitcoin and Farmville money to render this explanation lame. For one thing, it is said you can use Bitcoin to get real stuff.

It has been a volatile month for Bitcoin, the virtual currency that is based on a mathematic algorithm and can be used to buy everything from maple syrup to pornography. (Wall Street Journal)

Please. Talk about comical.

Whatever else it is, bitcoin has become the financial phenomenon of the moment. (New York Times DealBook)

That’s no nut graf, and unhelpful to boot.

So what is Bitcoin? Damned if I know, but I’m not writing a story about it. If I were, I would at least try to find out, and then use all my powers to write a proper nut graf.

*Capitalized or not? I say yes, at least for now.

** These links are offered for informational for informational purposes only. I can’t endorse them in their entirety.

A couple of handouts from the recent American Copy Editors Society conference contain some useful tips.

One includes suggestions on using (or not using) terms like “sequester,” “quantitative easing” and “profit.’ Quibble: make it “0.5 percentage points,” not “percentage point.” All nonzero numbers are plural.

The other approaches jargon from the viewpoint of a business, but still contains good advice despite our lack of mutual interest. Quibbles: Regarding “if it’s appropriate, use “build your business,” read that as “It’s never appropriate to use ‘build your business. That’s jargon in one of its foulest forms.” Regarding “Instead of “improve productivity,” you can come up with something better than “strengthen your business practices.” Sometimes, “improve productivity” is just fine, unless it’s a euphemism for “make your employees work more and don’t hire anyone else.”

From “Ask the Editor” at AP Stylebook Online:

Jonathan Kaufman, at Testy Copy Editors on Facebook, writes: “A better answer: Why are you writing in “business speak”?

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s unshakable commitment to a Zero Interest Rate Policy (ZIRP) has impoverished savers, driven investors dangerously out along the risk curve, and baked a ticking time bomb into the federal budget cake. (Huffington Post)

In November 2007, as the housing market was turning around and lenders were scrambling get rid of a ticking time bomb before it blew up in their face, Citadel injected $2.6 billion into E-Trade and bought a portfolio of souring mortgage loans, WSJ reported. (Forbes)

There are many more. The cliché is outdated. Everyone who watches television knows that a “time bomb” has a digital display, and is silent.


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