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What Does a “Ship” Mean Online, and How Do I Use It?

What Does a “Ship” Mean Online, and How Do I Use It?
Written by publishing team

Marcel Lerola /

When you see someone talking about “ships” or “shipping” on the Internet, there’s a good chance they’re not talking about sea vessels or logistics. Here’s what the word “ship” online means and how to use it.


On the Internet, “ship” is often a shortened slang for “relationship,” and generally refers to a romantic relationship between two fictional characters. For example, if you are currently watching Titanic, you might say, “There’s a ship developing between Jack and Rose.”

The word “ship” is also commonly used as a verb to show your support for a particular romantic pairing. For example, if you enjoy the chemistry of potential customers in the movie Titanic, you could say, “I’m shipping Jack and Rose.” The word also conveys a sense of strong interest or closeness for a particular romantic pairing. It’s common to see people saying “this is my ship” about a particular pairing as a way to show strong support for it. This is similar to OTP, or “one true coupling”.

You should definitely not confuse this with actual ships, which are sea vessels used to transport people and goods. A good rule of thumb is to check if the label refers to any romantic relationships in its message. If not, it may be a reference to actual naval vessels.

Origin of “ships”

Don’t worry we won’t carry you a seafaring history. While the word ‘ship’, which means ‘boat’, has been in the English language for a very long time, its online colloquial definition is much newer. The first entry for “ship” in Urban Dictionary dates back to 2003 and reads “an acronym for a romantic relationship, prevalent in fan story circles.” The site specifies that it can be used as a noun and a verb.

The term was already used on early fan sites in the ’90s and became more prominent when fans created communities around media franchises such as Harry Potter, Star Trek, and Star Wars. Subgroups of these communities would form around the romantic mating of characters and the creation of derivative stories called “fan stories.”

Eventually, the term spread to the rest of the internet through social networking sites and personal conversations between users. Nowadays, the use of the term “ship” is not limited to fictional characters. Many people on platforms like Twitter mention that they charge couples who are dating in real life. You can even say that you are charging two of your friends who are currently seeing each other to support their relationship.

Ships and Laws

Amy Adams and Henry Cavill in Superman
Warner Bros. Pictures

Ships tend to have a surprisingly large impact on internet culture and broad pop culture. For example, folk ships are used to promote romantic movies and TV shows. When Hollywood turned its romantic fantasy book Twilight into a movie series, its marketing veered toward the central love triangle. It was a way to take advantage of Twilight’s huge fan community, especially those who “charged” the protagonist with different love interests.

Certain ships or pairs may receive “ship names”. For example, the pairing of Clark Kent and Lois Lane from Superman is called “Clois,” which is a bearer of their first names. Most of its fans have a dedicated wiki, which is a repository of all information surrounding this work, including their ships.

In some cases, ships even influence the work of fiction itself. This is related to another term, “canon”, which means the elements of a fairy tale that are part of an officially released work. Several artists and directors have stated that fan-led campaigns to make certain “ships” become “canon” influenced the final output, eventually spawning fan-favorite romantic pairings on the show. When a ship becomes canon, fans often say “the ship has sailed” as a nautical-themed pun.

Related: 21 good rom-coms you can stream now

Shipping in life

Aside from its place in the internet fan culture, the word “ship” has become a common verb to show encouragement towards the couple. If you see two of your friends in a relationship, it’s very common for you to tell them, “I’m shipping you two.” This indicates that you think that they make a good pair and that you support them in continuing their relationship. You can also say, “I’m shipping John and Jane” to a third person who is also familiar with the pairing.

You can even use the word “ship” in a joking way to refer to things that you think belong together. For example, you might send a message in a group chat, “Pineapples and pizza? I shipped it.” This indicates that you are in favor of eating pineapple on pizza, which may not be popular in your circle of friends.

How to use “Shipping”

Romeo and Juliet on stage
Igor Bulgarin /

Before you start telling people that you charge everyone, there are a few things you should remember. This is a very informal generic term that only makes sense to those active in Internet circles. Moreover, in letters, it can easily be confused with a boat or a parcel shipping service. Use it only when you are clear that you are referring to a romantic pairing.

Here are some examples of the slang term “ship” in action:

  • “I ship Romeo and Juliet.”
  • “Mark and Marilyn make such an amazing duo! I ship them.”
  • “Wow, I can’t believe Monica and Chandler ended up together. The ship has sailed!”
  • “I really ship burgers and fries.”

Want to learn other common slang terms on the Internet? Read our guides on sus, FML and WBK, and you’ll be a quick web dictionary in no time!

Related: What does “WBK” mean, and how do you use it?

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