Shipping: “A fandom practice that involves imagining relationships between two fictional characters from a show, movie, or book series.” (Source: Know Your Meme.) The TV Tropes site notes that the word “ostensibly derives from ‘Relationship’ (though it might as well be ‘Worship’; in some fandoms, it's Serious Business).” TV Tropes traces the origin of the term to fans of The X-Files, “who were divided between ‘relationshippers’ pushing for romance and ‘noromos’ [from no romance] who would rather have No Hugging and No Kissing.” The X-Files ran from 1993 to 2002; an early use of relationshippers appeared in 1996 in an X-Files newsgroup. The earliest Urban Dictionary definition for shipping(“A term used to describe fan fictions that take previously created characters and put them as a pair. It usually refers to romantic relationships, but it can refer platonic ones as well”) was entered on March 6, 2005. Blogs and Tumblrs devoted to shipper fiction have been published since 2004, if not earlier, according to Know Your Meme.
In the February 22, 2015, issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine, Jenna Wortham wrote about the shipping subset occupied by “online superfans of the BBC show ‘Sherlock’” (2010-), who perceived a love that dared not speak its name between Sherlock and Watson:
These fans wring meaning out of every lingering glance and anguished expression that crosses Cumberbatch’s impressively dimensioned face and superimpose their own dialogue atop these moments, amassing a trove of erotic imaginings that is in some respects more compelling than the canon, at least in the unpredictability of the plot twists. For example, one offshoot of Johnlock, known as Fawnlock, imagines Cumberbatch as an ethereal deer, complete with graceful antlers and a speckled coat — and of course his lover, Watson, cradled in his forelimbs.
Wortham’s story includes a slide show of Sherlock-Watson fan art and a brief glossary of shipper lingo, including crack pairings (“a coupling that is considered bizarre by the standards of shipping, often for mixing universes [e.g., Shrek and Sonic the Hedgehog]”).
Names in shipper fiction follow intricate conventions, according to the TV Tropes entry:
There’s a whole nomenclature dedicated to Quick, Easy and Idiosyncratic Ship Naming, often varying from fandom to fandom. The most basic tool of communication here is the slash — if you wanted Alice and Bob to get together you could always say you shipped Alice/Bob. However, for most fandoms that's just not exotic enough. They will not be content with anything less than a short, sweet and catchy brand name — the more Incredibly Lame the Pun, the better (Harry Potter fandom actually named ships the “HMS this-and-that”). Shipping culture has also imported the Portmanteau Couple Name from Japanese Anime fandom; apart from its infamous usage in the gossip industry (“Brangelina”, “Bennifer”, “TomKat”) you can find people online declaring themselves fans of “Pepperony”, “Wuffara”, “NaruHina”, “Sheelos”, “Applepie”, and “Jam”. Yes, Jam.