An email last week reminded me of this particular bit of Homophone Hell: canon and cannon.
The correct word for the titular phrase is, of course, “cannon.” You know what cannons are. They’re those enormous guns, sometimes on ships, sometimes on the ground. They’ve got a wicked recoil when they fire, too. And on a ship, they had to be fastened in position or they posed even more of a danger because they could run a sailor over, being “loose cannons.”
So in our phrase up there in the title, what is “canon?” Well . . . substituting the definition for the word makes a sentence that’s utter rubbish. “He’s a real loose general law or criterion, or a collection of sacred books accepted as genuine.”
Likewise, if you talk about Star Wars canon or Star Trek canon or Whovian canon, you want the one-n spelling. You’re talking about the corpus of information that’s accepted to be the basis of those shows, the core, the “rules” if you will. “That fanfic isn’t canon, and I won’t read it.” It’s not cannon, either, but that’s beside the point. I suppose it could become ammunition . . . naah.
Dean Hamilton wrote a great blog post about these two words over at Tyburn Tree. (And it was his email to me last week that reminded me of this little trip into Homophone Hell!)
And of course, there really is a Loose Canon. Here’s a picture of it. You can get it for yourself over at the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.