Stationery or Stationary?

Most people seem to have their own little pet peeves. Having been in the printing industry for eight years, one of mine is the common misspelling of the word “stationery”. I realize that most people have never really given it much thought and that it is a very common thing to do, but here’s a little history on stationary and stationery and why in the world they mean something totally different.

Apparently, the two words originated from the Latin word stationarius (a person based at a military station). During medieval times, a stationarius was a trader with a permanent location – verses a traveling peddler. Many of these permanent traders were booksellers located near universities. In the fourteenth century, the English word stationer was recorded. These book peddlers, or stationers, also sold pens, paper, etc., but after the invention of movable type, two kinds of traders emerged – those who sold finished books and “stationers” who sold writing materials. By the eighteenth century, using the word stationery to describe writing materials became more common, but because the word stationary had been used for more than 100 years to describe something that does not move around, there was (and still is!) some confusion. The easiest way to make sure you are using the correct form of the word is to remember – the “e” in stationery equals “envelope”!

This word is so commonly misused that many websites selling stationery have at least one reference (or even an entire page!) dedicated to the word stationary. Funny, huh? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em . . .

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