• stationery •
stay-shê-ne-ri • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. Paper for writing letters, usually accompanied by matching envelopes. 2. Supplies and equipment for writing, such as paper, pens, pencils, ink, and so forth.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a reminder that only one letter separates the noun stationery from the adjective stationary "fixed, not moving". A stationer is either someone who sells books and stationery or the shop they sell it from.
In Play: This word can only refer to writing supplies: "The office stationery cupboard was like a sweet shop for Rhoda Book." The meaning is so narrow as to preclude any figurative use: "Madison wrote his letter of complaint on personal stationery he purloined from an office mate."
Word History: Stationery comes from the same source as stationary, Latin stationarius "stationary, stationed". Peddlers roamed about in the Middle Ages, so the distinction between those who roved and were stationary, that is, had shops, arose. Bookshops owned by universities were some of the first shops, hence the more specific sense. For a long time both spellings referred to both things, then someone thought it would be a good idea to use the two spellings to distinguish the noun from the adjective. Stationarius is the adjective belonging to statio(n) "standing (firm)", a noun derived from stare "to stand". The root of stare appears in too many words, borrowed and native, to list here. (Today's Good Word came from long-time contributor Tony Bowden of London on e-stationery. )
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