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The abbreviation of non-fungible token has seen a speedy rise in usage over the last year, said Collins, it upped 11,000% in the last year.

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Any digital creation can become an NFT, with the term referring to a certificate of ownership, registered on a blockchain, or digital ledger of transactions.

NFT beat two other tech-based words on Collins’ shortlist of 10 words of the year: crypto, the short form of cryptocurrency, usage of which is up 468% year on year, according to Collins, and metaverse, a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Describing a three-dimensional virtual world – such as that planned by Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s rebranded Facebook company – metaverse’s usage has increased 12-fold since 2020.

Collins defines NFT 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”; its lexicographers, who monitor the 4.5bn-word Collins Corpus to choose their word of the year, said they went for NFT because it demonstrates a “unique technicolour collision of art, technology and commerce” that has “broken through the Covid noise” to become ubiquitous.

“It’s unusual for an abbreviation to experience such a meteoric rise in usage, but the data we have from the Collins Corpus reflects the remarkable ascendancy of the NFT in 2021,” said Collins Learning managing director Alex Beecroft. “NFTs seem to be everywhere, from the arts sections to the financial pages and in galleries and auction houses and across social media platforms. Whether the NFT will have a lasting influence is yet to be determined, but its sudden presence in conversations around the world makes it very clearly our word of the year.”

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