Larry Osterman's WebLog

Confessions of an Old Fogey
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I recently received an email message with the following: "....involves the canonicalization (it's a word. I swear.) of ..."

I went through a long period of discussion with a tester once about my use of that word, he also insisted that it wasn't a word (and Microsoft Word's dictionary doesn't believe it's a word (it thinks it should be cannibalization)).

But canonicalization is a totally reasonable word.‚  It describes the process of turning data into canonical form.

The next question that the tester asked me was "what on earth does that word mean?"

Actually Canonical is one of my favorite words, because of its etymology.

Canonical means, roughly "the word of G_d"‚  Yup, that's right‚  You have to go back to the original derivation of the root word "canon" to realize that.

According to, "canon" means "An ecclesiastical law or code of laws established by a church council".

And canonical means roughly "Of, relating to, or required by canon law". It also means "Conforming to orthodox or well-established rules or patterns, as of procedure", but to my interpretation, that alternate definition flows from the first.  Since canon law is the law of the church, and the church's authority flows from god, being canonical would by inference become "conforming to orthodox or well established rules"‚  After all, what is more "orthodox or well established" than the word of G.d?

And now, working the derivation forward, we run into a word that doesn't recognize: canonicalize.‚  Fortunately, comes to the rescue, with its definition of the "ize" suffix: Bartleby says that it is used in English to turn an adjective into a verb.  So canonicalize is the verb form of canonical. That makes sense.

And similarly, canonicalization is the process of canonicalizing.

So Canonicalization is the process of making something conform to the word of G_d.

Something to think about when writing canonical ACLs or canonicalizing your URLs :).



  • I once used a photocopier to make canonical forms. If I'd used the right brand of printer then the originals would have been canonical too.

    10/7/2004 3:39 PM Jason Friederich

    > Wouldn't *cannonical* be an adjective
    > instead of a noun

    Sure, it does look like an adjective though I've never seen it before. I suppose you could use cannons to enforce canons, then the canons might be cannonical, but do the cannons have to be canonical or could you use any kind?
  • Interesting that this would come up and here's the word in a just released KB article:

    "HTTP module to check for canonicalization issues with ASP.NET"

    Who's been writing these KB articles I wonder?
  • 'Twasn't I :)

    But I do suspect I know.
  • Canonicalization Explained

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