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(science and technology)
Relating to the simplest or most significant form of a general function, equation, statement, rule, or expression.


(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".


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.
References in periodicals archive ?
Endorsing this form of utilitarianism commits one to the view that, conditional on the world being canonically infinite, ending world hunger and causing a famine are ethically equivalent options.
What is a "Catholic school," then, canonically speaking?
I] is canonically diffeomorphic with the total space [T.
The reference to 'scores over 110%' was canonically accurate since results greater than 110% saturation indicate that algal photosynthetic activity is producing a super saturation of dissolved oxygen (Smith, Monteath, Gould & Smith, 2006).
This bijection is described by labelling canonically the polygons of m-ary cacti.
With the permission of the local bishop, she and six other women started a "confraternity" that eventually became a canonically established religious order.
The introduction is based on a short six-note motive that is treated canonically, first in single notes and then in double notes.
In all these respects, it can be read as a reflection of the contemporary crisis of phallogocentric masculinity which Gratzke, for reasons which are only canonically convincing, traces back to Goethe's Werther.
The mediation that he is called to exercise as a priest is of a completely different order: It is a "ministerial" or functional mediation which he exercises in the hierarchical structure of the Church, in which he is endowed with a canonically fixed authority to transmit to men the truths of faith, to celebrate in their midst the sacrifice of the altar, to give them the Body and Blood of Christ, and to confer on them the graces of the other sacraments--without his having in any way to be a superchristian in order to acquit himself of these holy functions as such.
Tomson (Rosamund Marriott Watson), and Netta Syrett, the well-known but little-read Marie Corelli, and the canonically important Christina Rossetti and Virginia Woolf.
For globalization is accompanied by "growing monolingualism," and Charles's third and last great manuscript, Grenoble 873 (the subject of "Creating World Lyric") is a prime victim: "the most canonically marginalized part of Charles's work (his several hundred parallel Latin poems) is effectively invisible to modern readers.
These writers, who have only very recently established themselves commercially, let alone canonically, engage in a complex interaction with the market and the canon.