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It's Canon, not Cannon! and Other Absolutely Unavoidable Fandom Jargon

Updated on May 21, 2015
Don't make the classic mistake of using the word cannon when you mean canon.
Don't make the classic mistake of using the word cannon when you mean canon. | Source

Here are some examples you should be able to understand based on the information in this hub.

"I read the most interesting Meta the other day, and now I know how Game of Thrones will end!"

"Have you seen some of the fan art from the Five Nights at Freddy's fandom? I have seen some things, man. I have seen some very strange things."

"What am I even going to do with all these feels after last night's ship sinking episode of The Walking Dead?"

"And just like that, all the things we were worried about were canon! It's like the writers hate us."

"Fanon has really filled the unsatisfying void left by the holes in the plot."

"There is so much subtext on this show, it's unreal! Make it canon already!"

"I heard about the weirdest AU the other day."

"There is a shipping war going on in the Supernatural fandom again."

"You mean Joss Whedon said that? I guess it's Word of God, then."

"Buffy and Spike are my OTP."

"Please do not shoot me with that cannon."

Is Word of God Canon?

When an author comes out with new information after the fact, do you consider the new information canon?

See results

Canon, not Cannon.

Talking to other people who are interested in your favorite television show, movie, or other media property can be like learning a foreign language when you first get started, but with the help of these vocabulary words, you can be talking nerdy like a pro in no time. Let's get started!

A cannon is a device used to fire large projectiles, most likely as a method of combat. Cannons have absolutely nothing to do with fandom, but the word canon is very important for media conversations. When used in a fandom context, the word canon refers to anything that is true inside the property from which a fandom is formed.

You can use the word canon to describe the rules of how physics work inside the property, or the fictional history of a character. Canon describes everything that is perceived as real by at least one of the characters inside a property. Canon is generally decided by the creatives involved directly with the project.

You're going to need some key terms to discuss fandom articulately. Here are a few of the basic terms you will need.



Fandom

First, you have to possess a working knowledge of what we're talking about when we use the word fandom. Fandom is a blanket term for a large group of people who like the same thing, and all the new content that is produced in celebration of that media property. A fan kingdom, if you will.

A fandom can rise up around practically any media property. Huge, invested fandoms can come out of a Youtube video or a photograph. Big fandoms can crop up suddenly and some only limitedly reflect the property they came from. Generally fandoms tend to result from much larger corporate works, such as the fandom that has grown around the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

But do not discount the impact of a small project like a podcast or a webcomic. Take a look at fan art from "Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared," which is a Youtube series with two videos that closely resemble children's educational programming, but take a dark turn. The fan art in that fandom is gorgeous and creative, but it takes an abstract approach to the material. Most of the art I've seen features anthropomorphized versions of the semi-villainous household items featured in the videos rather than the puppet protagonists that go through such horrifying experiences.

Fandom can inflate minor characters' importance and even raise the dead through collectively denying a character's death in fanon. Consider Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Castiel from Supernatural, Phil Coulson from the MCU, or Zack from Final Fantasy VII. Those are all characters that, meta has it, fans reacted to so strongly that they got more screen time than was initially called for. Commonly held fandom beliefs can influence writers and actors.


Fanon

The fandom counterpart to canon is fanon. Fanon describes the consensus fans have come to about aspects of a property that are not explicitly discussed, or how things should be. Do not allow this definition to deceive you, fanon is important.

Fanon has determined the perceived appearance of characters which have never been visually depicted, like in the Welcome to Night Vale fandom. Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast, and therefore none of the characters have official visual depictions, but fan artists have come up with very solid, commonly accepted ideas about what Cecil and Carlos look like.

Going back to the difference between "Don't Hug Me I'm Scared" and its fandom, you can see that the fandom has come to a very strong consensus about alternate appearances for the notepad and the clock. Those ideas about anthropomorphic versions of the characters are fanon In "Don't Hug Me, I'm Scared," the notepad is a talking notepad. That is her canon appearance.

Fandoms can, to an extent, influence ideas that become canon, though they certainly don't always.

JK Rowling, Author of Harry Potter and much Word of God

JK Rowling
JK Rowling | Source

Word of God

Another important concept is Word of God. Word of God is when a writer or other influential person who worked on a media property comes out after the fact and says that certain things happened in that universe even though in the text those things were never shown explicitly. When JK Rowling makes new statements about Harry Potter's time after Hogwarts, those statements are dubiously canon via Word of God. Everything JK Rowling says about how Hogwarts works is true because she controls those works, but many readers don't see those facts as canon until they're published officially.

Fan Fiction and Fan Art

Fan fiction and fan art are exactly what they sound like. These terms refer to fiction writing and works of art that use characters, settings, or major ideas from a media property and the artist isn't being paid or employed by the owner of that property.

Fan fiction can have a role in developing fanon. Sometimes an author hits on an idea that resonates with the people who read it, and it spreads throughout the community.

What happens when you like aspects of a property, but you want to explore them under different circumstances? Try an AU! AU stands for alternate universe. Many television shows feature built in AUs. In Supernatural, there's an episode that proposes an alternate, apocalyptic scenario commonly called the "Endverse." In Buffy, there's an alternate universe where delaying Buffy's arrival in Sunnydale drastically alters the reality her friends face. AUs are also commonly used as a plot device for fan fiction.

If you enter into the world of fan fiction, you will find many fan created AUs. One of the most fun common AUs is when the author sends characters to Hogwarts that aren't from Harry Potter. I'm hoping that after the new Star Wars movie comes out, it will become the norm to set AUs inside the Star Wars universe.

Fandom Philosophers

Think of meta writers as fandom philosophers.  Some of them are quite highly respected.  They can develop huge numbers of followers.
Think of meta writers as fandom philosophers. Some of them are quite highly respected. They can develop huge numbers of followers. | Source

Meta

Fan written meta can also influence popular opinion about how these worlds work and what's going on with them. Meta generally refers to the thoughts people have about pop culture, and their opinions on how things will proceed from there. Meta tends to be rather dubious nonfiction or speculative fiction in the community. Meta commonly appears on blogging sites such as Tumblr. Meta theories can be very elaborate and well thought out. Some of the best meta is later proved wildly inaccurate, but can give the canon conclusions to franchises a run for their money in terms of reader satisfaction and quality.

For example, I read some excellent speculative meta the other day from 2004. This meta was posted before Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out, and so of course the writer had no inkling of what JK Rowling had in mind for Albus Dumbldore's background. The meta writer came up with the best, most elaborate explanation of where he came from, and it was absolutely more satisfying to me than Albus Dumbledore's past as written by JK Rowling. The theory posited was that Albus Dumbledore was a time traveling future Ron Weasley. I thought it was ridiculous when I first heard of the idea, but as I read the theory, it became increasingly plausible, to the point I felt ripped off, sitting here in 2015 without a time traveling Ron Weasley Dumbldore. Good, well supported meta can turn out to be better than canon. Through the communication of one meta writer to the community and the interpretation and reply of members of the community to a meta writer, new, commonly accepted fanon can come to light.


Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock

Oldschool OTP
Oldschool OTP | Source

Shipping

One of the most common sources of conflict in a fandom is shipping. Shipping refers to enjoyment consumers get from the idea of two characters having a relationship. Shipping is a huge can of worms, because in order for one combination of characters to be together, other combinations of characters can not. Some other members of fandom prefer not to see their favorite characters having romantic relationships but much of the in fighting inside fandoms comes from groups clashing over which couples they like best. Those clashes are called shipping wars, which makes one A&E original series title hilarious to many fandom insiders.

Ships tend to be named by combining the two characters names, although there are fandoms that don't do this, and there are ships with more unique, tailored names. Some examples of commonly used ship names are Rumbelle (Rumpelstiltskin and Belle, which is a canon relationship) and Swan Queen (Emma Swann and Regina Mills, which at the time I am writing this is a fanon relationship) from Once Upon a Time.

If you ship just one thing, it's called an OTP. OTP stands for One True Pairing, which means that of all the people in that fandom that could be shipped together, you ship that particular pairing exclusively.

It is possible to ship two characters as a couple and also not want to see them have a relationship in canon. A fan can appreciate fan art or fan fiction about two characters having a relationship but still have other opinions that conflict with that relationship being explicit on the show. Some shippers vehemently campaign to get their ships into canon.

A ship can be very popular and not explicitly canon. Destiel is a relationship perceived by fans of Supernatural between Dean Winchester and Castiel. That relationship, as of January 5th, 2015, is not canon. It is still the most popular ship on Tumblr, according to E! Entertainment News Online. As you can see, canon validity is not the only measure of importance when it comes to shipping.

Not all canon ships start out that way, Mulder and Scully on the X-Files did not start out together, but developed a relationship slowly over time. I have read some Meta writers claim that this was the result of shipping and was against the original intention of the writers, but I don't know this for a certainty.

Subtext is anything that is implied in canon but not explicitly said. Subtext doesn't have to have anything to do with shipping, but subtext is commonly discussed in shipping circles. On Xena, Warrior Princess, Xena's relationship to Gabrielle is indicated in part by subtext. The show never explicitly says whether Xena and Gabrielle have romantic feelings for one another. That they love one another is canon and obvious, but whether that love is of a romantic nature is in the eye of the beholder.

If a couple has been shown explicitly having a relationship or doing things closely related to having a relationship, that couple is canon.


Feels

A real or imaginary relationship between two characters can be said to give people "feels." Feels are feelings. They can be warm, happy feelings, or they can be sad, dark feelings. Feels aren't generally related to horror, but most other feelings can be described as feels in fandom circles. Feels can come from anything emotional, they don't necessarily have anything to do with shipping. An example of some feels would be the feeling you get when you're watching Captain America: the Winter Soldier, and Steve Rogers realizes that he knows who the Winter Soldier is. Those are some heartbreaking feels.

In Conclusion

Those are just a few of the basic ideas you'll hear about at cons, on Tumblr, and in conversation with your fandom friends. Practice these new vocabulary words with your nerdiest friends.

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