Wednesday, 28 October 2009

what spelling tells us about word history

I often notice the words stationery and stationary used interchangeably, and wish the writer had been fortunate enough, as I was, to have a teacher explain a useful mnemonic for remembering which is which.

(In researching this post, I've come across a fun site called Mnemonic Dictionary where people suggest their own mnemonics for various words.)

The trick I was taught for distinguishing between stationery and stationary was similar to the one at

But I think the best way to distinguish between spellings is to know the reason behind them. A stationer, in mediaeval times, was a merchant who had the right to stay in one place rather than have to wander around, as pedlars usually did at that time. The stationer was usually based near a university and sold books - but also writing materials.

So, if I just remember that there's a person selling paper and writing products in the shop, and that person is a stationer, I should remember the spelling of stationery.

The Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers in Britain has a little more about the topic. (I love that name.)

And more at Ryman Stationery in the UK.


Mary said...

I seem to remember something to do with the word car, the ar is important, and that cars move and stationary is about movement (or lack thereof). But I still get the two words mixed up.

parlance said...

Mary, the one I remember is about the letter A in stationary. The train has stopped at the station and train has a letter A in it. Was it that one?

Papillon Bleu said...

The stationer remaind stationary in the

Papillon Bleu said...

oops! I forgot to check the spelling when I clicked on send..never mind.

parlance said...

That's a great sentence, Papillon Bleu. Next time I'm in the stationery shop I'll keep an eye on the shop owner and if he stands still for a while I'll think of you, lol.