When you see someone talking about “ships” or “shipping” on the internet, there’s a good chance they’re not talking about seacraft or logistics. Here’s what a “ship” means online and how to use it.
On the internet, a “ship” is often an abbreviated slang word for “relationship,” and it generally refers to a romantic relationship between two fictional characters. For example, if you’re currently watching Titanic, you might say, “There’s a ship developing between Jack and Rose.”
“Ship” is also commonly used as a verb to show your support for a particular romantic pairing. For example, if you enjoy the chemistry of the leads in Titanic, you could say, “I ship Jack and Rose.” The word also communicates a sense of strong interest or affinity for a particular romantic pairing. It’s common to see people saying “this is my ship” about a particular pairing as a way to show strong support for it. This is similar to OTP, or “one true pairing.”
You should definitely not confuse this for actual ships, which are nautical vessels used to transport people and goods. A good rule of thumb is to check if the poster refers to any romantic relationships in their message. If not, then it might be a reference to actual seacraft.
The Origin of “Ships”
Don’t worry; we won’t bore you with the history of nautical navigation. While the word “ship,” meaning “boat,” has been in the English language for a very long time, its internet slang definition is much more recent. The first entry for “ship” in Urban Dictionary dates back to 2003 and reads “short for a romantic relationship, popularized in fanfiction circles.” The site even specifies that it can be used as both a noun and a verb.
The term was already being used on early fan websites in the 1990s and became even more prominent when fans established communities around media franchises like Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Star Wars. These communities’ subgroups would form around romantic pairings of characters and create derivative stories called “fanfiction.”
Eventually, the term would spread to the rest of the internet through social media websites and personal conversations between users. Nowadays, the use of the term “ship” isn’t limited to fictional characters. Many people on platforms like Twitter state that they ship couples that are dating in real life. You can even say that you ship two of your friends who are currently seeing each other to support their relationship.
Ships and Canons
Ships tend to have a surprisingly large influence on both internet culture and broad pop culture. For example, popular ships are used to promote romance movies and TV shows. When Hollywood turned the fantasy-romance book Twilight into a film series, its marketing heavily leaned into the central love triangle. It was a way to tap into Twilight’s very large fan community, particularly those who “shipped” the protagonist with different love interests.
Particular ships or pairings would even get “ship names.” For example, the pairing of Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Superman is called “Clois,” a portmanteau of their first names. Most fandoms have a dedicated “wiki,” which is a repository of all information surrounding that work, including their ships.
In some cases, ships even influence the fictional work itself. This ties into another term, “canon,” which means elements of a fictional story that are part of the officially released work. Many artists and directors have stated that fan-driven campaigns to make certain “ships” become “canon” have influenced the final output, ultimately resulting in fan-favorite romantic pairings happening in the show. When a ship becomes canon, fans often say “the ship has sailed” as a nautical-themed pun.
Shipping in Life
Aside from its place in internet fandom culture, the word “ship” has become a popular verb to show encouragement towards a couple. If you see two of your friends who are in a relationship, it’s pretty common to tell them, “I ship you two.” This signals that you think they make a good pair and that you support them in continuing their relationship. You could also say, “I ship John and Jane” to a third person who is also aware of their pairing.
You can even use “ship” in a joking manner to refer to things you think belong together. For example, you might message in a group chat, “Pineapples and pizza? I ship it.” This indicates that you support having pineapples on your pizza, which might be an unpopular opinion in your friend circle.
How to Use “Ship”
Before you start telling people you ship everyone, there are a few things you should remember. This is a very informal slang term and only makes sense to those active in internet circles. On top of that, in messages, it can very easily be confused for a boat or a package shipping service. Use it only when you’re being clear that you’re referring to a romantic pairing.
Here are a few examples of the slang term “ship” in action:
- “I ship Romeo and Juliet.”
- “Mark and Marlene make such a great couple! I ship them.”
- “Wow, I can’t believe Monica and Chandler ended up together. The ship has sailed!”
- “I really ship burgers and fries.”