An artistic representation of bitcoins.
fdecomite / Flickr

It might not have been word of the year for 2013, but “Bitcoin” figured prominently in the shortlists. Known formerly only to true geeks, the mysterious cryptocurrency was in the news almost every day. Many of the stories were tales of riches gained and lost: a Norwegian student who discovered that the 5,600 bitcoins he purchased for $24 in 2009 were now worth $700,000; a British man who accidentally threw away a hard drive containing digital keys to bitcoins worth over $6 million. Others were tales of crime: websites where anonymous buyers could use bitcoins to buy drugs or even pool money for potential assassinations of public figures. And still others focused on attempts at regulating Bitcoin, which ranged from declaring it altogether illegal (Thailand) to embracing it wholeheartedly (Switzerland). 

Why all the fuss? Much of it has to do with Bitcoin’s pure novelty and its wild price fluctuations (from under $20 per bitcoin at the

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