Word Confusion: Stationary versus Stationery

Posted October 1, 2012 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

This one cracks me up. Sure, paper can be stationary, if no one moves it. Generally, it’s people and movable objects that are stationary. Parked cars, loiterers, satellites, population. You know the type of things I mean, things that don’t move or grow.

As for stationery, I suppose someone could take a stance on stationery. I know that I like something pretty, preferably with matching envelopes that coordinate with my business card. Other people are quite happy with their stance on stationery: they like plain white paper.

Gotcha confused yet? Actually, I have an easy trick to remember which one to use when. You use a pEn with stationEry and you stop wAlking if you are stationAry.

I know, simple. And I use it all the time!

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Stationary Stationery
Credit to: Apple Dictionary.com

cars parked in front of houses along the street

Image by Daniel Case (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons

Closeup of cars parked along Catherine Street in Macclesfield.

A stack of copy paper

“Stack of Copy Paper” is Jonathan Joseph Bondhus’ own work [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Part of Grammar:
Adjective Noun

There is no plural form.

Not moving or not intended to be moved

  • [Astronomy; of a planet] Having no apparent motion in longitude
  • Not changing in quantity or condition
Writing paper, especially with matching envelopes

Office materials such as pens, pencils, and such used for writing

He was stationary for some time.

The population has been stationary for some time.

The satellite is in a stationary orbit.

A parked car is stationary.

We’ll have to order up some stationery.

They’ve changed the company’s logo, and we’ll have to order up all new stationery.

Oh, Mom, Aunt Mary gave me that same stupid stationery for Christmas.

History of the Word:
Late Middle English from the Latin stationarius. Originally in the sense of belonging to a military station from station- (standing). First known use: 1688

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves?

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