'Canon' or 'Cannon'?

Long ago, the word for a big gun and an accepted body of rules was the same, but today, you have to distinguish between "cannon" and "canon."

Mignon Fogarty
2-minute read

a cartoon image of a cannon

As a fiction fan, I’m always amused when people write about how a new book in a series or a new movie in a franchise deviates from cannon because a cannon is a large, heavy gun.

These readers and viewers are actually annoyed because the new material deviates from canon: an accepted body or collection of rules or principles. In this case, canon is the collection of rules, ideas, and history that govern the imaginary world, but “canon” is also used to describe a collection of official documents (the books of the Bible), authentic works of an author (Shakespeare’s canon), and a religious or secular law.

“Canonical” is the adjective. For example, you could talk about the canonical books of the Bible or the canonical writers of the seventeenth century.

There’s also a verb form of the word. Saints are canonized, for example.

In the fifteenth century and earlier, “cannon” was also spelled “canon,” but you live in the twenty-first century, so stick with “cannon,” with two N’s, for the weapon.

How to Remember the Spelling of 'Canon' and 'Cannon'

Multiple listeners, including Waldo Berg and Carol Einarsson, suggested a great memory trick: Remember that “cannon,” the weapon, has more N’s by thinking of them as ammunition, cannonballs. A gun or cannon fires the same kind of ammunition over and over, kind of like the repeated N’s in the word. If you’re in a battle using a cannon, you want as much ammunition as possible. More N’s equals more cannonballs, so “cannon,” the weapon, is spelled with two N’s in the middle instead of one. 

Examples of ‘Cannon’

Well, sir, you more than meet every one of this state's requirements to box, wrestle or be shot out of a cannon. ― The Simpsons

We have rail guns and cannons. They apparently have a full complement of self-guided missiles. ― Dark Matter

Don't give yourselves to brutes, men who despise you, enslave you; who regiment your lives, tell you what to do, what to think and what to feel! Who drill you, diet you, treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder. ― Charlie Chaplin

Examples of ‘Canon’

Is that how you see it? Us versus them? Ms. Rubirosa is conducting herself within the bounds of the canon of ethics, and zealously representing her client to the best of her abilities. That's what she's expected to do, whether that client is a criminal defendant or the people of the state of New York. ― Law & Order

Where would you rate "Pink Cadillac" in the Eastwood canon? ― Psych

To be really great in little things, to be truly noble and heroic in the insipid details of everyday life, is a virtue so rare as to be worthy of canonization. ― Harriet Beecher Stowe

The Snow White theme is one of the darkest and strangest to be found in the fairy tale canon. Terri Windling, White as Snow

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

a pinterest image saying canon or cannon?

About the Author

Mignon Fogarty

Mignon Fogarty is the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips and the author of seven books on language, including the New York Times bestseller "Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing." She is an inductee in the Podcasting Hall of Fame, and the show is a five-time winner of Best Education Podcast in the Podcast Awards. She has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. Her popular LinkedIn Learning courses help people write better to communicate better.