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 :).



Comments (19)

  1. Anonymous says:

    This post is extremely garbled in WebKit. I assume you’re using a Windows encoding without telling the web server?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I think canonical is the second most used at Microsoft, after "So".

    And Larry’s posts are always garbled these days, give him an hour to fix it after posting.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post 🙂 I have a couple of favorite words myself, one of which a large number of people claim isn’t a valid word.

    As for canonical…for the definition that most people are trying to convey is "canonical form":

    <a href="">canonical form</a> from Merriam Webster.


  4. Anonymous says:

    A literary reference, from a Grook (Gruk) by the Danish poet/mathematician Piet Hein.

    (posted from memory, google fails me, errors are my memory, not the translator)

    “A sage who visited the fountain of truth

    Said in a phrase that later became canonical

    To his disciples, patterns of eager youth

    "I have seen truth itself, and it is conical"”

  5. Anonymous says:

    I prefer normalization over canonicalization. It avoids the religious connotation.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This post made me think of a very warped sort of scene in which Bill Gates was somehow delivering the word of G_d to all:)

    In the days of Netscape, Saint Gates raised the mighty URL on high for all to see and said, "Oh lord, bless this the canonical form of the holy URL, that with it we may conquer all the web."

    The Lord did think this was a holy URL, and blessed the canonical form above all others. However, the people of Microsoft strayed from the canonical form of URL, thereby introducing the world to a nasty security defect in ASP.Net 🙂

  7. Anonymous says: &raquo; Bug in ASP.NET and Larry O.&#8217;s favorite word

  8. Anonymous says:

    Your O key (or is it the "aw" key) isn’t working. God isn’t God’s name so you can spell it out in full.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wouldn’t *cannonical* be an adjective instead of a noun invalidating the above justification for use of ize to make it a verb?

    If so, then it would instead lead to cannonize and cannonization. These make more sense to me.

    Just a few thoughts.

  10. Anonymous says:

    David, you may be right, but when I was writing it, I was thinking of it as a proper noun (thus capitalized).

    And I have mixed feelings about using His name explicitly (which is a really wierd attitude to take for an unobservant Reform Jew, but go figure).

  11. Anonymous says:

    Canonical is an adjective, ize is used to turn both nouns and sdjectives into words.

    I’ll fix the text.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What’s up with you and Eric Lippert* riffing on language recently? Strange memes floating about, I guess.

    "Canonize" and "canonization" have more the meaning of "making something canon", whereas "canonicalization" is meant as "making something conformant with existing canon".

    I’d like to see widespread use of "regulate", which seems to have the meaning of "canonicalization" but is in fact a word. The OED (language canon) says so. Unfortunately nobody would know what I meant if I talked about regulating my file path.

    I like "normalization". I’m not worried about the deity so much. It’s a real word, has the right meaning, and is used in that sense commonly enough that someone else is likely to understand it.

    * Eric’s recent language blog:

  13. Anonymous says:

    I’m not a great fan of the random application of the ize/ization suffixes; it’s just laziness! If you want to say you’re going to make something canonical, then use the phrase "make /foo/ canonical". I know language isn’t static, yah de yah da, and that there are canonical examples of words (randomize, for example), but "words" like "incentivize" just wind me up…

    If you’re painting your fence green you’re not going to say you’re greenizing or paintedizing it, and if you drink a lot of beer you’re not drunkizing yourself. Pack it in forthwith, or I will bruisedize you! 🙂

  14. Anonymous says:

    > What’s up with you and Eric Lippert* riffing on language recently?

    Larry and I have a lot in common. For instance, we’re both speakers of English.

    > If you’re painting your fence green you’re not going to say you’re greenizing

    Of course not. You’re greening it. Green is already a verb, as are most colour words. Colour words that aren’t verbs usually have simple verb forms, such as "redden", "blacken", "whiten".

    And even if they didn’t, I’d much prefer "greenify" to "greenize".

  15. Anonymous says:

    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?

  16. Anonymous says:

    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?

  17. Anonymous says:

    ‘Twasn’t I 🙂

    But I do suspect I know.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Canonicalization Explained

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