July 16, 2018 7:16 pm

Making the Blockchain Relatable: Rewriting the Cryptionary

Half of every conversation I have with people new to crypto consists of a language lesson.

I majored in French in college. (Oui, French. Yes, now I’m in product management. Yes, in crypto. No, I do not know how to code.) My major rarely feels relevant in my current field. I work with one native French speaker, but I’m so rusty that I’d be embarrassed to attempt to carry on a conversation about wine, much less deterministic wallets or Merkle trees.

Yet it occurred to me today, as I was turning the internet upside down looking for some actual, substantiated research on UX tactics for teaching people about new technologies, that I may be ignoring an important lesson from the French classroom: begin by creating a little lexicon of a few words and phrases, then build on it.

Easier said than done in a space where we are upending the status quo, not just within the technology world but within the finance world as well — but let’s give it a try.

Let’s start at the very beginning.


We say ‘blockchains’ are ledgers. Fine. This is an easy leap for most people to make.


Stop right here. With this single word, we are introducing this revolutionary new concept that took arguably some of the smartest technologists in the world to figure out and deploy. The term ‘crypto’ cannot be easily translated into an accurate analogy the way the term ‘blockchain’ can. ‘Digital Money’ or Satoshi’s original ‘Electronic Cash’ are so much more relatable to the average human.


Don’t get me started on this misnomer. The properties of the physical version of a wallet just don’t translate. I have one wallet, into which I put credit cards, cash, and my driver’s license. Most of us don’t have multiple wallets, nor do we have any kind of securing mechanism for our physical wallets. This analogy just doesn’t work. I think we also need to differentiate between software and hardware wallets, since the experiences are so different. What about the following:

For software wallets: ‘Account’

  • Draws an easy parallel to today’s more commonly used online account types (banks, social media, etc.)

For hardware wallets: ‘Vault’

  • Indicates a lack of mobility
  • Implies a higher level of security

Mnemonic phrase / seed / passphrase / etc.

Nope nope nope. What about, ‘Word Key’?


Shared? Joint?

I would argue that almost all other crypto terms could likely be abstracted away from novice users’ eyes. A lot of folks still don’t trust crypto, but trust will not come from them reading the Bitcoin white paper. It will come through social validation — seeing friends use cryptocurrencies without negative consequences. The more barriers we can break down to enable this — including language barriers — the faster we’ll see adoption.

What do you think?

About the author

Elizabeth Robuck