What is shipping? Your chance to make Harry end up with Hermione

Want Holmes to romance Watson? Whether you know it or not, you are 'shipping'. Gillian Orr on a handy addition to the dictionary

Among the numerous new entries recently announced to be joining the hallowed pages of the Oxford English Dictionary were "cryptocurrency", "zero-hours" and "bikeable". But it was perhaps the addition of a new meaning of "shipping" that left most wordsmiths scratching their heads. For shipping no longer refers solely to the transporting of goods by sea, and as with most re-routing of words, we have the internet to thank.

If you've ever willed Harry and Hermione to swap their insults for embraces, or wished Holmes and Watson would surrender to the obvious chemistry between them, then you've, maybe unwittingly, already taken part in shipping.

Derived from "to relationship", shipping is the championing of two characters to get together. It has exploded with the burgeoning popularity of online fan fiction, which sees users write up details of (as-yet unfulfilled) romances. All ages are involved in shipping, and while plenty is sweet, teen fan-girling, some will leave you blushing and checking that you've not accidentally clicked on to a porn site.

One of the first fictional couples to be shipped was The X-Files' Mulder and Scully. Fans were divided into "relationshippers", who longed for the FBI Special Agents to lock lips, and the "noromos", who wanted their association to remain strictly professional. Another early example (and a rather curious one) was the shipping of certain Pokemons. Apparently Jessie and James were made for each other, the unconsummated darlings of Japanese anime, if you will.

Usually, fans will give a couple their own moniker, often a portmanteau of their names. X-Files fans liked to use Sculder or MSR (quite simply Mulder-Scully Romance).

Any kind of relationship can be acknowledged. From the obvious "will they, won't they" couples to inter-species intimacy, one rule of the shipping community is that if at least one person wants to see a certain pairing, then it's a legitimate ship. Nor is it limited to modern-day culture; you'll find sites dedicated to shipping the heroes and heroines of classic literature, such as Jo and Laurie in Little Women.

One of the most popular practices is to pair up characters into homosexual relationships (or slash ships). While many Harry Potter fans longed for the wizard schoolboy to end up with Hermione (indeed, JK Rowling herself suggested this should have been the case), even more wanted to see him get it on with his enemy Draco (that one's called Drarry).

Some pretty interesting artwork of proposed couples in imagined situations is also a big part of the culture. When James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender appeared on The Graham Norton Show a couple of weeks ago to promote their new film, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the host presented the two actors with drawings of them (as their characters, Charles and Erik, respectively) in some loved-up scenarios, including feeding each other cupcakes, and baking cookies. This hook-up is called, you guessed it, McBender.

Television producers also routinely play up to shippers. Sherlock executives have ensured that "Johnlock" fans are kept happy by including numerous incidents in which the colleagues are assumed to be a couple, while the producers of Xena: Warrior Princess peppered the script with humorous lesbian innuendo after they discovered that fans were discussing the possibility of a relationship between Xena and her best friend, Gabrielle. As a result, the show acquired a huge following in the sapphic community.

But perhaps the most famous ship today is not based on fictional characters, but rather two real people. A number of fans of One Direction's Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson have, rather curiously, longed for a romance between them, calling the duo Larry Stylinson, and writing stories about them that can run into hundreds of thousands of words. Why teenage girls – which most of the authors are – like to imagine their crushes are gay is anyone's guess, but it's clear that fandom has moved on from the days when a sticker book and a couple of posters were all you needed to acknowledge your allegiance.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine