Whether you want your two closest friends to start dating or you’ve penned nearly one million words about Alexander Hamilton pining over his best friend in the Revolutionary War, chances are you’ve probably “shipped” someone (or, more precisely, someones) at least once. In fact, the shipping phenomenon has become so widespread that one of the most popular fanfiction websites ArchiveOfOurOwn (AO3), where ship-works are primarily held, won the prestigious Hugo award, a writing prize for science fiction works. Though fanfiction may seem like a new phenomenon of the 21st century, the internet did not create the concept – it only propelled it into the mainstream.
The Atlantic reports that fanfiction as we know it today hit its stride in the 18th century with the 1726 novel Gulliver’s Travels, where readers concocted stories placing main character Lemuel Gulliver in increasingly strange (and more inappropriate) situations. Over a century later, after author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off his popular protagonist Sherlock Holmes in 1893, fanfictions abounded as fans clamored to find a better ending for their beloved detective.
However, modern day shipping as we know it did not become popular until the era of Star Trek in the 1970s, when some fans began wanting Captain Kirk and Spock to form a romantic relationship. These fans needed a place to write down their ideas, and thus, contemporary fanfiction was born. Back then, “shipping” wasn’t a term, so the two became known as “slash” since their initials were written as K/S to signify their romantic pairing.
Later, during the X-Files era in 1995, fans of the show coined the term “shipping” to describe their desire for characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully to date after concluding that “relationshipping” was too long and “r’shipping” too clunky. Over time, terms like OTP (One True Pairing), canon (the ship actually happened in the source material) and sunk ships (no possibility of the ship becoming canon), all made their way into shipping culture, forever changing the way fans describe their favorite romantic pairings.
Today, the most popular ships come from all different types of fandoms, ranging from the BBC’s modernized iteration of “Sherlock” to the CW’s “Supernatural.” Several accomplished authors, such as Meg Cabot of “The Princess Diaries” and Neil Gaiman of “Good Omens,” even admitted to writing fanfiction.
Ultimately, through fanfiction, people can feel a sense of belonging and express their creativity in novel ways.