Crypto naming controversy

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The meaning of the word crypto as an abbreviation is controversial. Cryptographers - people who specialize in cryptography - have used the term "crypto" as an abbreviation for their field of study. However, "crypto" has also become a common abbreviation for cryptocurrency.

Etymologies and definitions[edit]

A diagram of the etymologies of cryptography and cryptocurrency.

The word cryptography derives from the prefix "crypto-" of Greek origin meaning "hidden" and the suffix "-graph" also of Greek origin and meaning "to write". This name reflects cryptography's historical role as the study of codes for secret communication. Still, the prefix crypto appears in many other words, such as cryptofascism (secret support for fascism), cryptosporidium (a parasite), and cryptomnesia (a long-forgotten memory).[1]

The term "cryptography" nowadays refers to an effervescent area of research that has moved beyond secret ciphers to study message authentication, digital signatures, secure multiparty computation and zero-knowledge proofs, among other active areas of research.[citation needed]

Cryptocurrencies, on the other hand, are currencies that use cryptography as an underlying mechanism. Nevertheless, most cryptocurrencies only use digital signatures and hash functions.[2]


Dictionaries such as Merriam-Webster and the Oxford English Dictionary, define "crypto" as a shorthand for cryptography.[2]

Matt Blaze registered the domain in 1993, but sold the domain in 2018 to a cryptocurrency company.[3] In 2021, the Staples Center in Los Angeles was renamed to the Arena, referring to the cryptocurrency company now behind the domain.[4]

Descriptivism, as opposed to prescriptivism, is the school of thought that accepts crypto as referring to cryptocurrency rather than cryptography based on the common use of the term.[5]


Computer scientist Matthew D. Green stated that most cryptocurrencies barely have anything to do with serious cryptography, aside from trivial use of digital signatures and hash functions.

Matt Blaze stated in 2018 that "I think calling cryptocurrencies 'crypto' is a poor choice, with bad consequences for both cryptography and cryptocurrencies".[6]

Parker Higgins of the Freedom of the Press Foundation stated that the cryptography crowd is by nature deeply invested in precision.[6]

Journalist Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai from Vice compared the controversy to the meaning of the word "hacker", which can be used for criminals as well as curious technology enthusiasts as part of the hacker culture.[2][5][1]

The website features the statement "‘Crypto’ does not mean cryptocurrency, it means cryptography" on a red background and with an emoticon expressing incredulity.[1]

Amie Stepanovich, the executive director of the Silicon Flatirons center at the University of Colorado, created T-shirts bearing the message: "Crypto. It means cryptography." This shirt is popular among cybersecurity experts; it was, for example, worn by Matt Blaze.[5]


  1. ^ a b c Benchoff, Brian (2018-04-23). "What Does 'Crypto' Actually Mean?". Hackaday. Archived from the original on 2018-04-26. Retrieved 2021-11-23.
  2. ^ a b c Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (2017-11-28). "Cryptocurrencies Aren't 'Crypto'". Vice. Archived from the original on 2020-11-09. Retrieved 2021-11-23.
  3. ^ Robertson, Adi (2018-07-06). ", the multimillion-dollar cryptography domain whose owner refused to sell, has been sold". The Verge.
  4. ^ Young, Jabari (2021-11-17). " buys naming rights to Lakers' Staples Center in a $700 million deal". CNBC. Retrieved 2022-02-26.
  5. ^ a b c Franceschi-Bicchierai, Lorenzo (2021-11-18). "'Crypto' Means Cryptocurrency. We Lost the War, and It's OK". Vice. Archived from the original on 2021-11-18. Retrieved 2021-11-23.
  6. ^ a b Cantor, Matthew (2021-11-18). "Cryptographers are not happy with how you're using the word 'crypto'". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 2021-11-18. Retrieved 2021-11-23.