HODL – how a typo became a rallying cry

Hugh Farmar

Hugh Farmar

It was 18 December 2013. Brexiters were seen as “fruitcakes and loonies” by then UK prime minister David Cameron, Trump was still just a reality TV star with a Twitter account, and one of the last bailouts of the financial crisis had just taken place with the EU handing over EUR10bn to Cyprus. The evolution of HODL as a Crypto Term had not even started.

Over in the nascent cryptocurrency world, the price of Bitcoin had dropped from an all-time high of $1,100 to $420, a fall of 62%. This was causing waves in the Bitcoin community.  

On the bitcointalk.org message board, a poster called “GameKyuubi” had a little rant about what a terrible trader he was and how the best thing to do was hold through the considerable bear markets Bitcoin experienced. But he’d been drinking, so instead of typing “Hold” he typed “Hodl” in all caps in the subject line: 

“I AM HODLING” 

Explaining his logic he said “You only sell in a bear market if you are a good day trader or an illusioned [sic] noob.  The people in between hold.  In a zero-sum game such as this, traders can only take your money if you sell.” 

His unimpeachable logic paired with the amusing typo was instantly turned into a meme by the replies. To “Hodl” through the currency’s stomach-wrenching volatility has become a badge of honour in the crypto community, rather than having “weak hands” and selling in a downturn to “diamond hands”.  

GameKyuubi had the last laugh too. His hodlings have gone up in value by 70x since (one Bitcoin at the time of press is worth $30,000) and he sold an NFT of the post for 33 ETH (the equivalent at the time of about $63,000).  

Ordinarily, this column would frown on typos. But what is “to hodl” other than a new version for the digital age of “Buy and hold”, a strategy which value investors have preached since Ben Graham published Security Analysis in 1934?  

We have to acknowledge that in this instance, just in the same way that DNA copying errors can create new and interesting forms of life, so too did language morph and recreate itself memorably, by mistake. By editing quite efficiently the phrase “Buy and hold” into the shorter version of “HODL”, the typo has imbued the phrase with a deep meaning, implying strength of character, sense of belonging to a community and belief in an idea. The replies to the post show how others gained strength from this idea, giving them backbone during the steep falls. Based on the results (70x) the typo was a good thing. But this is the first and only time we will say such a thing…  

 

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