Today I read that the OED are making a secondary definition of ‘ship n.’ and adding ‘ship v.’ to the dictionary. (See their blog here) This is a fascinating example of how fandom has impacted the English language. The popularity of the word has been enough to catch the eye of the editors of the OED and they have deemed it to be in common enough use to warrant its addition.
There are, of course, numerous debates surrounding the adding of words to the dictionary. The liberal make the claim that all words, if they are used and understood, are a part of the English language and should have a dictionary definition. There are others who are more conservative and think only ‘proper’ words should be added, those words that are almost universally known and accepted.
Well, shipping, for those who aren’t ‘in the know’ or aren’t a part of a fandom, is defined thusly by the OED:
For me, this is a sign that fandoms are having a sociological and cultural impact. Of course, slang words like this are not uncommonly added to the OED, but it shows just how widespread fandoms are and that the Internet has allowed so many people to connect that they are effectively creating their own version of English.
Some may find the idea of shipping strange. Personally my interaction with fandom began when I started attempting to explore it academically and it has certainly been an education. At the start, the idea of shipping was foreign and a little bit weird, simply because the language was new to me. Trying then to explain this to other academics, outside of fandom, made them laugh. It seems on the surface to be a ridiculous thing, especially when the media present it on shows like ‘Crazy for One Direction’ as being a part of a ‘crazy’ fandom. But this is how the media like to portray fans, taking the extreme examples, as I wrote about previously here.
Helpfully, fellow academic and blogger Emily Garside (@EmiGarside), told me that she uses Pride and Prejudice to explain it to those who think it’s strange. She said,
‘It frustrates me that people think it’s a ‘weird’ thing, it’s just wanting a romantic pairing…Reading/watching Pride and Prejudice you want Darcy and Elizabeth to get together. Willing people to get together is the basis of shipping.’
And of course she’s right. Think of any romantic classic: The Great Gatsby for example, you want Daisy and Gatsby to get together; or Heathcliff and Catherine in Wuthering Heights. It’s natural when reading a book or watching a film to interpret the chemistry between characters.
Of course, the writers do not always ship the same characters you do and perhaps it is this division between writers and fans, and even between fans themseleves, over who would be best together is what makes shipping seem ‘weird’. Just take Harry Potter as an example: JK Rowling has famously said recently that she wishes she had coupled Harry and Hermione rather than Hermione and Ron (example article here). Even writers sometimes end up shipping couples in their narratives other than the ones they’ve written! Why is it then so strange that us readers and viewers should do the same?
The output of fan-fiction which plays out alternative couples is incredible, both in its volume and in its content. It is also a source of great debate, even within fandoms: the Sherlolly shippers vs the Johnlock shippers; the Mystrade shippers vs the Adlock shippers. (That’s BBC Sherlock/Molly, Watson/Holmes, Mycroft/Lestrade & Irene/Sherlock respectively). I think this is particularly prevalent in the Sherlock fandom because Holmes is traditionally a-sexual, but the canon is not without its hints towards Adler or Watson as potential partners. Adaptations like the BBC have played on these hints, making them less undertone and more overtone and the idea that Holmes could be with anyone is up for debate; therefore any character is a potential candidate for shipping, depending on whose chemistry you prefer or wish to develop.
Shipping gets people talking and gets people thinking creatively. It is the job of the academic to explore new avenues and interpretations of literature and many fan-scholars believe shipping to be just that. So shipping is now officially a part of the English language and fandoms are rejoicing – their voices are being heard.