One of the favourite pastimes of fans of a TV or book series is to imagine beloved characters as a romantic couple. For example, Harry Potter and Hermione seemed a natural pairing as they grew to maturity, only for JK Rowling to subvert this expectation. There’s a word for this form of hypothetical matchmaking – shipping, from relationship – and it’s no longer confined to fictional characters. If you ship two people, you want them to be together (in a ship), and that makes you a shipper. Online fan fiction gives audiences the opportunity to create storylines that can enact such wished-for unions. In these, the metaphorical potential of the word ship is further explored, in terms such as shore – a happy outcome of a ship – or anchoring, where fans ship themselves with a favourite character. There are even ship names, as in Brangelina (for the real-life couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), portmanteau words that symbolise the inevitable combination of the two people. These are not the kind of ships that just pass in the night.

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