Grammar

Canon or Cannon

When trying to decide whether to use canon or cannon, you should keep in mind that while they’re very different things, each can be involved in a kind of battle.

Canon or Cannon? That extra N makes a big difference when it comes to differentiating the two words. Let’s check out the meanings of each.

Canon

This word comes primarily from the world of fan-fiction. As the name implies, that involves stories based on characters created by someone else. I’ve heard of fan-fiction written about characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and even The Man From U.N.C.L.E., just to name a few.

Fan-fiction written about Star Trek, for example, might put Gene Roddenberry’s characters from the U.S.S. Enterprise in new situations the original franchise owners never envisioned. As those situations unfold, they could possibly clash with the established history that the owners of the Star Trek universe have maintained.

That’s where canon enters the picture. It means the “official” history or story of a creative work. Fan-fiction that changes or ignores storylines from the original series or its movies would not be “canon” because it would conflict with the original, “true” storylines.

To be honest, I’ve never fully appreciated the world of fan-fiction. When I would write short stories I wanted told, I’d create my own characters in my own universe and that way I felt like I could manipulate them however I wanted. Maybe that means I’m a control freak.

But diehard fans of various series take canon very seriousl. Some get into spirited arguments over the concept when talking about fan-inspired stories versus “official” stories. More power to them!

Cannon

While I’d expect some people to be unfamiliar with the meaning of canon, I would definitely expect a much larger awareness of cannon, which is a large military mounted gun.

The earliest cannon may have been used during the Song dynasty of China in the 12th century. The cannon came into wider use by the early 15th century, though curiously it was originally spelled with a single N until the 19th century. The word originated from the Italian cannone, which meant a “large tube” or “barrel,” and from the Latin canna, which meant “reed” or “tube.”

Cannons fire cannonballs. Old sailing ships relied on cannons for their protection and for fighting other ships. The cannons required cannonballs to be readily available.

This led to the invention of the “brass monkey,” something you may have heard of before. A brass monkey was a brass plate with indentations that fit cannonballs, which could then be stacked like small pyramids.

The Urban Dictionary explains that in extremely cold weather, the brass would contract, popping the cannonballs out of place, leading to the phrase, “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.”

Today, modern cannons include howitzers, mortars and autocannons, among others. Autocannons have an automatic mode similar to machine guns.


If you’re looking for an easy way to distinguish the two, the best I would suggest would be to consider the cannon as a “long” gun, and remember the longer of the two options, the one with the two <em>Ns</em>, as the right choice.

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.