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I find it fascinating that nearly everyone refers to the algorithmic generation of cryptocurrencies (CC) as mining. Personally, I've never found minting in this context.

In my understanding of the semantics of these two words applied to money, fiat money are invariably minted, but precious metals are mined. Back in the times before fiducials came into adoption¹, money had been minted from previously mined metals (from iron in the ancient Sparta to gold in more refined societies). Simply put, I've never heard about a discovery of a natural deposit of dollar bills or pound sterling coins that could be mined.

I am wondering how has the word mining became applicable to CC generation. I want to stay firmly on a descriptivist's ground here. One semantic connection is the effort required to produce it; indeed, one may argue that, despite the CC's being fiat money example at its finest, the effort required to produce new CC units is sociopragmatically connected to the concept of hard work with limited yield, akin to the arduous labor of mining¹, and opposed to the easy job of running the money-printing press. But I am only guessing; this is not a theory, not even a hypothesis, and, arguably, not even wrong at this stage.

I'm wondering if anyone has come across either or both the semantics-focused research on this topic (such as researching why “mining” has come to accept CC as it's object), or that on the etymological side of this seemingly new usage (i. e., the history of the usage, and its possible connection to “mining”--did it come into the common use as a corruption of “minting,” or was it applied to the CC from the very start, and possibly finding a connection how did this happen).

Academic publications would be golden, but non-peer-reviewed reputable sources are also interesting to me at this stage of my research.


¹ And then ebbed and flowed a few times in the history of money, last but probably not the final time in the 1972—1973.
² Real mine workers would almost certainly disagree, and I'd perhaps side with them, but that's beside the point.

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    "Mining" is what the bitcoin inventors picked. Presumably it refers to the effort involved, whereas a coin can be "minted" with just a (simple?) turn of a crank. – Hot Licks Jun 1 at 1:06
  • I would appreciate an explanation for the -1, as it would help me improve the question for everyone;s benefit. Thank you. – user173639 Jun 1 at 1:06
  • @HotLicks, thanks, I totally agree, and I mention that possibility, but I'd prefer a reference to a harder research than just a guess. – user173639 Jun 1 at 1:07
  • @HotLicks, "Mining" is what the bitcoin inventors picked”—can you provide a reference to that? I know that this person identity is shrouded in mystery, but it's interesting if he used that word himself. – user173639 Jun 1 at 1:09
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"Mining" is apparently the established term for bitcoin, which seems to have been influential on following cryptocurrencies (I don't know much about the history of cryptocurrencies, so I can't give a detailed account). Satoshi Nakamoto's paper "Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System" includes the analogy to mining:

The steady addition of a constant of amount of new coins is analogous to gold miners expending resources to add gold to circulation. In our case, it is CPU time and electricity that is expended.

(§6 "Incentive", p. 4)

This model is opposed to a model involving a (metaphorical) "mint", which Nakamoto describes as involving a centralized authority:

A common solution is to introduce a trusted central authority, or mint, that checks every transaction for double spending. After each transaction, the coin must be returned to the mint to issue a new coin, and only coins issued directly from the mint are trusted not to be double-spent. The problem with this solution is that the fate of the entire money system depends on the company running the mint, with every transaction having to go through them, just like a bank.

(§2 "Transactions", p. 2)

This may be a reason why the word "minting" was felt to be inappropriate to describe the generation of decentralized cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin.

  • Thank you, the reference to “Satoshi Nakamoto” is a perfect answer to the etymological part, and probably answers the question about the semantics as well. Although his (or maybe her) identity is not known, there is little doubt that English is his native language. – user173639 Jun 1 at 1:15

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