I saw such phrase "Fans have been shipping these two for years, and it’s easy to see why. They’re attractive, single, and they’ve got a lot in common..." in this article. What does "shipping" mean in this context?

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To ship two people or characters, means wanting to see them in a (romantic) relationship. This is usually something fans of a show or other popular medium do.

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    Huh. That's a new one to me. Do you know if it would normally be written 'shipping or without the apostrophe? – Andrew Dec 19 '17 at 16:25
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    @Andrew the linked article doesn't use an apostrophe and this definition doesn't either: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/shipping Slang is generally punctuation averse I think. – ColleenV Dec 19 '17 at 17:02
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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Since the author of this answer isn't participating in this discussion, maybe someone should distill the salient points from the conversation and add another answer to address the usage. For folks that don't want to join chat rooms, here is the transcript of the discussion so far. – ColleenV Dec 19 '17 at 19:28
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    Fans on different ships can also attack one another using the canon. – Nick T Dec 20 '17 at 19:03
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    @MichaelHardy apparently it was coined by viewers of The X-files. tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Shipping. Warning, TV tropes link. – stan Dec 20 '17 at 20:33

In this sense, to ship two persons means to imagine that they are in a romantic relationship, or to desire that they are in a relationship. This normally applies to characters in a work of fiction (movie, novel, etc.), it would be unusual (but not impossible) to apply it to real people.

The term originates from fandom. It was popularized in the Internet era, so you won't find it in older dictionaries. Even today, it may not be known by all native speakers. It's still somewhat slang.

Ship” in this sense is an abbreviation of relationship, it's unrelated to the “boat” meaning. There are derived expressions that make a pun (e.g. a “sailed ship” for an imagined relationship that has become a fact in the fictional world, e.g. by a later season of the series), but they are a lot less common than the simple verb.

The word is most commonly used as a verb, but it has some derivatives. “A ship”, in this sense, is the imagined relationship. A shipper is someone who likes to imagine such relationships.

See also the Wikipedia article on the topic.

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  • The use might also have been normalized by the common abbreviation/verbalization of shop to mean "altered with Photoshop", e.g. "You'd think it's an amazing photo, but if you look carefully you can see it's been heavily shopped". It's not a huge jump from shop to ship. – Andrew Dec 20 '17 at 2:55
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    it did not originate on wikia. It is a far older term. – user64742 Dec 20 '17 at 8:14
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    I've seen it applied to real people, including with puns around the boat meaning ("the [name]-[name] ship sank years ago"). But maybe that's more common in SFF fandom communities! – Rand al'Thor Dec 20 '17 at 12:11
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    @Typhon Fandom the concept, not Fandom the new name for Wikia. – Muzer Dec 20 '17 at 15:22
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    @Andrew I doubt there's a direct relationship between "ship" and "shop", but rather that both resulted from a similar jargon-creation process. – Barmar Dec 20 '17 at 17:45

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