[ ship-ing ]
/ ˈʃɪp ɪŋ /
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the act or business of a person or thing that ships.
a number of ships, especially merchant ships, taken as a whole; tonnage.
Obsolete. a voyage.
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Origin of shipping

Middle English word dating back to 1250–1300; see origin at ship1, -ing1


non·ship·ping, adjective

Other definitions for shipping (2 of 2)

[ ship-ing ]
/ ˈʃɪp ɪŋ /

noun Slang.
the act or practice of discussing, writing about, or hoping for a romantic relationship between fictional characters, as in fan fiction, or between famous people, whether or not the romance actually exists in the book, show, etc., or in real life:the shipping of TV characters;shipping in webcomics.

Origin of shipping

First recorded in 1990–95; (relation)ship + -ing1
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What else does shipping mean?

Shipping is the act of wanting two or more fictional characters or celebrities to end up in a relationship, usually romantic.

Where does shipping come from?

Though the term didn’t come around until later, the concept of shipping itself predated any label. The first widely-known ship, appearing around the mid-1970s, was the romantic pairing of Kirk and Spock or Kirk/Spock from Star Trek. (The slash between the names is why fan fiction about two men is now called slash. It has since extended to women with femslash.)

The actual term ship apparently came from the X-Files fandom. Fans who wanted Mulder and Scully to get together were called relationshippers starting in the 1990s. These people were known as r’shippers or shippers for short by as early as 1996. 1996 was a big year for shipping, as ‘ship as a noun appeared in discussions about the canonization of a romantic relationship between the two characters. By 1998, ship was a full-on verb.

By 1999, the terms shipper and ship appeared in Star Trek fandom, possibly indicating a cross-pollination of fandoms, perhaps because both shows involve extraterrestrials. A shipper is a person who engages in shipping. They might write fan fiction or draw art of characters involved, often with the characters ending up in a relationship or already being in a relationship. They might also discuss their ship with fellow fans, sometimes presenting evidence as to the characters’ chemistry.

Not too soon after these words entered the Star Trek fandom, they spread to other fandoms like Harry Potter, which was growing its own fanbase following the popularity of the books. The term exploded by 2002, and by 2003, it was finally added to Urban Dictionary, signaling that its presence online had been secured.

Even decades since Kirk/Spock, shipping thrives. It also continues to evolve, with fans shipping real-life personalities and celebrities (Larry Stylinson, a shipping of One Direction’s Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson) as well as developing increasing subgenres and increasingly large fandoms. However, this type of shipping can be somewhat controversial, and people doing it are sometimes warned to be careful to not cross boundaries.

How is shipping used in real life?

As a verb, people usually declare their affinity for a certain pairing by saying something like “I ship Character X and Character Y!” Alternatively, when faced with a situation that makes characters seem cute together, they may say “I ship it.” Someone who so ships a character is a shipper (e.g., a Ron Weasley/Hermione Granger shipper in Harry Potter fandom).

Many fans have strong opinions about shipping, which may result in shipping wars within a fandom, where each side wants a different ship to become canon, or part of the actual story or narrative.

Ships, which are the pairings themselves, have a variety of ways they can be named. Blending character names together is a popular choice. Though many are funny, many are more straightforward and aren’t as laughter-inducing. Ships may also be known under another name entirely. For example the ship name for Finn and Poe from Star Wars is Stormpilot because Finn was formerly a stormtrooper and Poe is a rebel pilot. And, the ship for the characters in the 17th season of Pokémon:XY are called AmourShipping.

While making up new names is fun, the most unambiguous way to name a ship is to place character names next to each other, separated by an x or a /. For example, Ash/Misty or AshxMisty. This more easily accommodates polyamorous ships as well, like Ron/Harry/Hermione in Harry Potter.


This content is not meant to be a formal definition of this term. Rather, it is an informal summary that seeks to provide supplemental information and context important to know or keep in mind about the term’s history, meaning, and usage.

How to use shipping in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for shipping

/ (ˈʃɪpɪŋ) /

  1. the business of transporting freight, esp by ship
  2. (as modifier)a shipping magnate; shipping line
  1. ships collectivelythere is a lot of shipping in the Channel
  2. the tonnage of a number of shipsshipping for this year exceeded that of last
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012