When explaining the “non-fungible token” (NFT), the first thing to know is the meaning of “fungible.” “Fungible” is a funny word, for sure, and this can be distracting as you might spend some time making silly guesses about the meaning — for example, does it mean sort of sticky? Like if you throw a fungible ball at a wall, would it stick to the wall at first, and then slowly slide down the wall, leaving a snail trail along the way? This is what “fungible” sounds like to me.

You can undoubtedly come up with your own definitions, as I have, or you can look it up somewhere. Maybe Wikipedia has something on it.

In any case it’s important to note the presence of the prefix “non” in the phrase “non-fungible token,” because it indicates that the NFT doesn’t even have the quality of “fungible” at all — it’s the same as saying “Here’s a token with no fungibleness.” It makes you wonder why “fungible” was even brought up, as if the originator just wanted to thumb his or her (or their) nose(s) at it or something. We can of course offer only guesses about such motivation, but we’re just pointing out that the “non” means that the relevant part of an NFT is the T — the token.

A ”token,” as any schoolchild knows, is not the thing itself but a representation of the thing. You might have a token for the subway, and the token represents (that is, stands in for) real money. Although if you think of it, money is itself a token, representing value, though less so as time goes on. In the example of money, you have a token of a token, but even that pale representation gets you on the subway. Is this a great country, or what?

picture of a man holding an NFT, which is nothing. At all.

Sometimes a token is an actual thing. For example, say you run a great big corporation and are embarrassed that you have no women on your board, so you get a “token woman.” In that case the woman is real (a poster or placard of a woman would be unpersuasive) but the reason for her inclusion would be bogus (that is, you’re still a chauvinist, a real one).

In conclusion a non-fungible token is something that is not fungible, and neither is it a real thing but only a representation of a real thing (and perhaps even a real thing of no interest or value, or even a stupid thing). I hope this has been helpful on your journey to understand NFTs, as we will be hearing about them a lot, until you just want to scream — and now you’ve obtained the knowledge to say to yourself “it’s not real,” and you can relax.

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