Cannon - canon

From Hull AWE
Jump to: navigation, search

Cannon (two '-n-'s) and canon (one '-n-') form one of the sets of homophones listed by the then Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.
(For more, see Bridges homophones). AWE has a category listing our articles on each of these.. Do not confuse them. (Until the middle of the seventeenth century, the spellings were interchangeable.)

  • A cannon is one of various types of gun, particularly 'great guns' or artillery. OED (1888) defined it usefully as "a gun or firearm of a size which requires it to be mounted for firing", although current slang usage sometimes applies it hyperbolically to hand-guns.
Etymological note: cannon is derived from the Italian cannone, which is formed from the suffix -one, 'big', and canna, 'reed', 'hollow stem' or 'tube'.
    • See also cannon (billiards) for an account of a misuse.
      • There was a grand country house in Middlesex called Cannons, built by the 1st Duke of Chandos between 1713 and 1724 and razed in 1747.
  • Canon has several meanings in academic and ecclesiastical life. (The plural is always canons.) The root meaning is 'a rule, or law, or edict'. The adjective meaning 'to do with [any of the several meanings of] canon' is canonical.
    • In Christian life, there are several meanings (see Canon (religious) for a fuller account). The two of most relevance to this page are
    • 'the rules of the Church'. This was used collectively ( the canon) to mean the body of church law. Nowadays this branch of law is usually called canon law, "ecclesiastical law, as laid down in decrees of the pope and statutes of councils" (OED).
    • A particular rule that was established fairly early was that laying down which religious 'Books' were authentic, and should be included in the Bible. The Canon nowadays is not used for Canon Law but this list of Books of the Bible is the official list of the 'right' books to be included in the Bible. (Different Christian sects have slightly different canons.) See Books of the Bible for a list.
      • Some priests in some Christian sects are known as canons, because, at least historically, they lived under the rules governing societies of priests. (see also college.) Such priests may wear 'canonical dress', or a particular form of clothes that identifies them as canons.
    • The term canon was broadened, particularly after the Reformation, in two directions, of which the earlier is now less common: canon means 'a rule' or 'fundamental principle' in other subject areas than the church. Sometimes a canon is the 'criterion', or 'standard of judgement', used to determine the value or truth of something.
    • More common nowadays is the broadening of the idea of authenticity of writings to what OED defines as "those writings of a secular author accepted as authentic", so that scholars have spent much labour establishing 'the Shakespeare canon' - the list of plays that we can be sure that Shakespeare wrote. (It is still disputed.)
    • Most importantly in current literary and pedagogical circles the idea has grown of 'a list of books that should be taught', in schools or in universities. There is a branch of literary study known as canon theory.
    • In Music, a canon is "A species of musical composition in which the different parts take up the same subject one after another, either at the same or at a different pitch, in strict imitation" (OED), such as the famous 'Pachelbel's Canon' and the nursery rhymes 'Three Blind Mice' and 'London's Burning'.
Etymological note: the word canon comes, through Latin, from the Greek κανών (kanōn), a straight rod or bar, a measuring rod, a rule or standard.