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(science and technology)
Relating to the simplest or most significant form of a general function, equation, statement, rule, or expression.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


(Historically, "according to religious law")

1. <mathematics> A standard way of writing a formula. Two formulas such as 9 + x and x + 9 are said to be equivalent because they mean the same thing, but the second one is in "canonical form" because it is written in the usual way, with the highest power of x first. Usually there are fixed rules you can use to decide whether something is in canonical form. Things in canonical form are easier to compare.

2. <jargon> The usual or standard state or manner of something. The term acquired this meaning in computer-science culture largely through its prominence in Alonzo Church's work in computation theory and mathematical logic (see Knights of the Lambda-Calculus).

Compare vanilla.

This word has an interesting history. Non-technical academics do not use the adjective "canonical" in any of the senses defined above with any regularity; they do however use the nouns "canon" and "canonicity" (not "canonicalness"* or "canonicality"*). The "canon" of a given author is the complete body of authentic works by that author (this usage is familiar to Sherlock Holmes fans as well as to literary scholars). "The canon" is the body of works in a given field (e.g. works of literature, or of art, or of music) deemed worthwhile for students to study and for scholars to investigate.

The word "canon" derives ultimately from the Greek "kanon" (akin to the English "cane") referring to a reed. Reeds were used for measurement, and in Latin and later Greek the word "canon" meant a rule or a standard. The establishment of a canon of scriptures within Christianity was meant to define a standard or a rule for the religion. The above non-technical academic usages stem from this instance of a defined and accepted body of work. Alongside this usage was the promulgation of "canons" ("rules") for the government of the Catholic Church. The usages relating to religious law derive from this use of the Latin "canon". It may also be related to arabic "qanun" (law).

Hackers invest this term with a playfulness that makes an ironic contrast with its historical meaning. A true story: One Bob Sjoberg, new at the MIT AI Lab, expressed some annoyance at the incessant use of jargon. Over his loud objections, GLS and RMS made a point of using as much of it as possible in his presence, and eventually it began to sink in. Finally, in one conversation, he used the word "canonical" in jargon-like fashion without thinking. Steele: "Aha! We've finally got you talking jargon too!" Stallman: "What did he say?" Steele: "Bob just used "canonical" in the canonical way."

Of course, canonicality depends on context, but it is implicitly defined as the way *hackers* normally expect things to be. Thus, a hacker may claim with a straight face that "according to religious law" is *not* the canonical meaning of "canonical".
This article is provided by FOLDOC - Free Online Dictionary of Computing (


The standard or authoritative method. The term comes from "canon," which is the law or rules of the church. See canonical name and canonical synthesis.
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References in periodicals archive ?
Before turning to the studies, an overview of Nancarrow's canonic techniques will help clarify the perception issues fundamental to the canons.
Canonic technique receives a great deal of attention in Part II of Morley's treatise.(9) He begins by identifying canonic procedure as `when two parts are so made, as one singeth everie note and rest the same length and order which the leading part did sing before'.
The changing transpositional relationship between canonic voices, shifting from an octave to a major sixth between dux and comes, in fact becomes thematic in this short piece.
It is part of "a campaign of striving toward right by constantly changing ways of being wrong" (17), and to be effective, it must continually "liberate the idea from what would otherwise be canonic and binding" (125).
The chamber works from this period on the disc Telemann: Sonates corellisantes and canonic duos (Chandos CHAN 0549, rec 1993) reflect the popular and cosmopolitan nature of his work, as the French title of the former suggests.
Nooshin discusses the fact that although Iranian musicians, according to tradition, are supposed to be creative and not repeat themselves, they are also expected to stay within this tradition's boundaries as indicated by the canonic repertoire, the radif.
And, at this shifting frontier, newer figures (not new, of course, to the history of Abstract Expressionism but to canonic admiration) now command attention--painters of enormous merit who, perforce, were ground down by the era's insistent denigration of women or whose admirable achievements were compromised by the demands of their husbands' careers (even as those careers may still be up for grabs in the larger play of historical recontextualization).
As it evolved new spatial configurations and relationships to its context, it always turned fortuitous events to its advantage, even in the period where its evolution most closely coincided with 'canonic' architecture, Soane's long expansion of the bank as it grew to finance the Napoleonic Wars.
Libraries, translations, and 'Canonic' texts; the Septuagint, Aquila and Ben Sira in the Jewish and Christian traditions.
(The exotic Ballibili that he wrote for Paris Opera performances of Otello would have been a more intriguing choice.) Quartet for Strings, done to Verdi's only string quartet, was a repetitious exercise in canonic sequence for a quintet of under-challenged dancers.
Tracks such as Kick and The Thistle of Scotland are inventive recreations of folk tunes, whilst the canonic texture and bass line of Beat the Retreat openly recalls Purcell.
This ambitious study by Amaryll Chanady analyses the cultural marginalization of the indigenous peoples and the ethnic minorities of the Americas (excluding the United States), their relationship to dominant groups and to wider (often national) identities, their representation in canonic texts, and their attempts at self-representation.