Canon Meaning: Here’s What It Means and How To Use It

Canon is one of the most essential terms to understand in the context of storytelling. This is what it means in the world today.

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Suppose you’ve ever had a conversation with someone passionate about a series of movies, a group of literary works, or a fictional universe of any kind. In that case, you will have likely heard the word canon. It’s one of the most essential words in the context of storytelling in general and can impact how people view a storyline in general. 

Beyond just having use in the context of fiction stories, the word canon is absolutely critical within the world of religion and belief systems. It’s a great way to identify some of the most important aspects of religious orders at large and specify what they stand for. 

These dual meanings for the word canon are similar and related, but knowing how to use them in the proper context can make a huge difference in your own life. This is what the word canon means, how to use it properly, and how to use it to ensure you’re dealing with actual facts. 

What Does Canon Mean? 

The first dual meaning of the word canon found in dictionaries is defining and describing a collection of books or works of a writer accepted as genuine.

This applies to everything from the canon of the Holy Scripture of various religions all the way to the episodes of a television franchise. When dealing with the original work, it’s essential to know what parts of their catalog are seen as a fundamental part of the storyline timeline of written assignments or other media. 

Another definition for the word canon has more to do with things that pertain to a body of rules, principles, and laws by which something is judged. This is most common in churches and religious institutions, where people make their judgment of things based on doctrine or the canon law in general. These canons of law can change depending on the specific kind of church, so it is essential to know how these particular rules apply to whatever context you are within. 

What Is the Etymology of Canon? 

The word canon comes from the Greek kanōn, or kanna, which means “rule” or “law.” As the languages developed, the word transposed into Latin directly, and from there, it became the Old French canon.

After that, the word went through Old English and Middle English to become the canon that we know today, in the contexts that we use in the modern world. 

What Is Canon in Stories? 

In the context of stories, it is imperative to distinguish what is canon and what is non-canonical. It is critical to know the principle in many different franchises, most prominently including Star Wars by Disney and Lucasfilm. 

n Star Wars, many comic books and stories are set within the same universe but aren’t recognized by the creators as part of the universe’s actual storyline. As such, these comic books are not in the canon. 

This is also seen in a myriad of different religious contexts. For example, there is a prescribed canon for the books of the Bible and books that have ecclesiastical authority.

If someone makes a spin-off for these kinds of stories like fan fiction, it will definitely be seen as non-canonical. This is because it was created by someone who doesn’t have the actual authority or ownership over the story. 

A canon is also used to describe a set of works that make up the core aspect of a specific literary genre or subsection. For example, the durable canon of American short fiction contains the most critical elements of short fiction made with an American background.

This is also found in Shakespeare’s canon and Neoclassical canon. The criterion for which works make it canon is usually decided by an authority on that specific subsection of the world. People who agree with them will often follow the same canon. 

What Is Canon in the Christian Church? 

The canon of the church is an essential aspect of many churches, but the most popularly seen canon is in the Roman Catholic church. This will guide the priests, prayers, and members of the church in how they operate in their religious services and daily lives. 

Often, the canon will help dictate which piece of music should be played, what part of the mass should happen at a given time, what the complete list of saints is, who can be a member of a cathedral chapter and more. It is critical to understand the canon as a list of rules to be obeyed in these churches because going against them, even accidentally, can result in negative consequences. 

These kinds of canons are common in many churches that tend to have a lot of rules. While many evangelical and nondenominational churches tend to be much more relaxed on traditional Christian canon rules, canons are still a big part of many churches today.

If you ever find yourself in a church or other religious institution, it definitely pays to learn what their personal canon is and operate within it. It’s just like learning the rules of a new culture, except it’s easier in this situation because most of the rules are actually written down! 


Understanding a canon can be very important to know how the more traditional places work and how storylines function. If you ever come across an area where the function of a canon is in place, now you know what it means.

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  1. Canon definition and meaning | Collins English Dictionary
  2. Canon Definition & Meaning |
  3. Old English language | History, Characteristics, Examples, & Facts | Britannica