Stationery vs. Stationary

Ladies and gentlemen, your grammar lesson for the day:

She remained stationary as a matter of principle. She gave stationery as a gift to her principal.

Homophones can be tricky. But while one should always strive to use the proper form for all words sounding the same yet meaning different things, the one nearest and dearest to our heart is stationery versus stationary.

Stationary, according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, means “standing still” orĀ “not moving.”

Stationery, according to the same source, means “writing paper” and “writing materials, as in notepads, pens, pencils, paper and envelopes.”

One shouldn’t feel too bad about confusing these two common words. In fact, they were once the same word and shared the same spelling. In the 1700s, “stationery wares” were sold by “stationers,” i.e. booksellers who did not travel all about, but stayed in one place to sell their wares. They were frequently booksellers who also sold writing wares. Somehow, the spellings diverged into stationery (meaning writing ware) and stationary (meaning fixed and unable to move).

A common school house trick for remembering the proper spelling is to remember that station-ery means pap-er.

Have more questions about etiquette? Email our Crane Concierge at concierge@crane.com.

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