The Collins dictionary has announced that 'NFT' is its 2021 word of the year, beating out a shortlist of contenders including "double-vaxxed," "hybrid working," and "cheugy" to claim the top spot.

Collins defines an NFT—short for non-fungible token—as "a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible." As a noun, the term describes "an asset whose ownership is recorded by means of a non-fungible token."

NFT's bumper year

NFTs have shot to prominence in 2021, with the $69 million sale of an NFT artwork by digital artist Beeple in March sparking a rush of interest in the tokens.


The art world has rushed to cash in on the opportunity presented by NFTs, with venerable auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's hosting auctions of the digital assets, and NFT exhibitions in venues ranging from galleries in London's Mayfair to Russia's State Hermitage Museum.

NFTs from projects including CryptoPunks and Bored Ape Yacht Club have sold for millions of dollars, while the crypto avatars became the flex of choice for celebrities on Twitter (which itself announced plans to verify NFT avatars).

Celebrities from Quentin Tarantino to Martha Stewart have raced to launch their own NFTs, following in the footsteps of big brands. Visa even bought its own CryptoPunk to add to its collection of "historic commerce artifacts."

Interestingly, one of the other contenders for Collins' word of the year points to the possible future of NFTs: "metaverse."


The metaverse, a shared virtual world, has become the buzzword du jour in recent weeks after Facebook announced its plans to rebrand as Meta, a "metaverse first" company. Microsoft and Nike quickly followed suit with their own metaverse plays.

Central to this shared virtual world is the idea of digital ownership, with participants able to buy virtual land plots and own virtual objects that can be carried between different metaverse platforms. And those items will likely be represented by NFTs. It's setting the stage for a battle between advocates of an open metaverse, such as Epic Games CEO Tim Sweeney and Kraken CEO Jesse Powell, and those who are pushing for a more centralized metaverse.

One thing's for sure: NFTs are going to be part of the conversation for a long time to come.

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