Word Confusion: Cannon versus Canon

Posted August 11, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

One of the irritating points about confusing cannon and canon is that canon is so rarely used and most people are unaware of its existence. If they know the word, they generally understand the difference between this pair of heterographs. So, how is it that authors mix this one up? This can only mean someone, ahem, is relying upon their spellcheck to find misspelled words and not paying attention to the fact that spellcheck does not consider the context of words.

When you’re doing your own proofreading, it’s very important that you look at each word. Don’t skim your text. Concentrate on exactly what you are reading and read each and every word, quickly defining each one as you read, while paying attention to your punctuation.

‘Cause I gotta tell ya, reading about soldiers firing their canon sends up images of lawbooks being thrown through the air. Now, I can understand how gratifying that might be, but I doubt that’s the image intended. Of course, I suppose someone might want to tell a priest that they are now unemployed…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Cannon Canon
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com; Merriam-Webster: canon and cannon; Your Dictionary.com: cannon bone

“Spanish-American War Cannon” by Steven Pavlov is under CC-BY-SA-3.0license, via Wikimedia Commons

“12th Century Manuscript of Church Law by Painters” provided by Web Gallery of Art and is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The page of canon law was painted by an unknown English miniaturist who was active during the 1120s in Canterbury. It’s currently located in the British Library.

Part of Grammar:
Noun 1
Plural: cannon, cannons

Verb, intransitive & transitive

Past tense, Past participle: cannoned
Gerund and Present participle: cannoning

Noun, 2, 3, 4
A large, heavy piece of artillery, typically mounted on wheels, used heavy metal or stone balls; formerly used in warfare

  • An automatic heavy gun that fires shells from an aircraft or tank

[Billiards, chiefly British] A carom 1

[Engineering] A heavy cylinder or hollow drum that is able to rotate independently on a shaft

Projecting part of a bell by which it is hung

[Medical] A supporting bone of the leg in some hoofed mammals, analogous to the metacarpus of the hand or the metatarsus of the foot in humans

Verb, intransitive:
To suddenly and forcefully hit or move into or against someone or something

  • [Billiards & snooker] A type of shot
  • To fire cannon
  • To make a carom

Verb, transitive:
To bombard with cannon

To attack with cannon fire

[Chiefly British] To cause to carom in billiards

A general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged 2

  • A church decree or law

A collection or list of sacred books accepted as genuine

  • The works of a particular author or artist that are recognized as genuine
  • The list of works considered to be permanently established as being of the highest quality

[Also canon of the Mass; in the Roman Catholic Church] The part of the Mass containing the words of consecration

[Music] A piece in which the same melody is begun in different parts successively, so that the imitations overlap

Projecting part of a bell by which it is hung

A member of the clergy who is on the staff of a cathedral, especially one who is a member of the chapter. The position is frequently conferred as an honorary one. 3

  • [Also canon regular or regular canon; in the Roman Catholic Church] A member of certain orders of clergy that live communally according to an ecclesiastical rule in the same way as monks

A brand of camera 4

Towards the end of the eighteenth century, many ships carried between 50 to 100 cannons.

Some of the cannons used during the Civil War included the 6-pounder, an M1857 12-pounder, and a 12- and 24-pounder howitzer.

He pulled out what looked like hand cannon.

Today, water cannons may be used for crowd control.

The idiot was a loose cannon.

Their short cannon bones mean these ponies have considerable strength and stamina.

Verb, intransitive:
The ball cannoned off the goalpost and into the net.

English billiards is played on a billiards table with the same dimensions as a snooker table and points are scored for cannons and pocketing the balls (Wikipedia).

A cannon shot is worth two points.

The rafts were cannoning into each other.

Verb, transitive:
All that money was wasted in the good times, water-cannoning our treasury with so little thought or restraint that we are heading toward bankruptcy.

The appointment violated the canons of fair play and equal opportunity.

The first Council of Nicea promulgated early ecclesiastical canon law.

Paul’s letters began the formation of the biblical canon.

The Shakespeare canon has been proved to consist of thirty-seven plays.

Hopkins was firmly established in the canon of English poetry.

Canons range from folk rounds such as “Three Blind Mice” and “Frère Jacques” to the massively complex canons of Johann Sebastian Bach (Merriam-Webster).

After studying the arts at Toulouse and law at Orleans and Bologna, he became a canon at Bordeaux and then vicar-general to his brother the archbishop of Lyons, who in 1294 was created cardinal bishop of Albano (Your Dictionary.com).

The free grammar-school was founded in 1548 by William Ermysted, a canon of St Paul’s, London (Your Dictionary.com).
Canon cameras are a high-quality digital SLR.

The first Canon camera was introduced in 1936 (Canon).

Adjective: canonlike
History of the Word:
First known use: 15th century (noun); 1567 (verb)
Late Middle English from the French canon, from Italian cannone meaning large tube, from canna meaning cane, reed.

1 Early 19th century alteration of carom.

First known use: before 12th century

2 Old English from the Latin, from the Greek kanōn meaning rule and reinforced in Middle English by the Old French canon.

First known use: before 13th century

3 Middle English (in the sense of canon regular) from the Old French canonie, from the Latin canonicus meaning according to rule. The other sense dates from the mid-16th century.

4 First known use: 1936

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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Pinterest Photo Credits:

“The Fall of Jerusalem” is courtesy of the The Realists while the cannon is from a post, “Halloween Special“, courtesy of Science and Technology Facilities Council.