Stationery vs. Stationary

Okay folks, I’ve got a bee in my bonnet. I don’t want to come across as though I’m ranting because I’m not completely ranting , instead I want to focus on the differences and explore if there is anyway to educate the masses of people who make stationery, yet say they make stationary.

First, let me tell you a story…

My first real job ever (babysitting doesn’t count) was working for the stationery company Papyrus.  I had originally applied for the Papyrus store in Beachwood Mall (University Heights, Ohio) and was told they didn’t have a position for me there, but they were opening a store in Tower City Center (Downtown, Cleveland) and hired me as a sales associate there.

When I went in to fill out the forms and meet the manager, they asked me to spell the word “stationery” which I did. CORRECTLY with “ery” instead of “ary”.  I remember the store “set-up” manager turning to the store manager and saying, “oh, it is good that she can properly spell “stationery”, she’ll be great for personalized orders.”  I didn’t quite understand, but I knew that I was pleased to receive the praise.

Now, 13 years later, I hear that statement many times over each time I go online and see someone say they make letterpress, customized, personalized, and/or handmade stationARY. 

I don’t know about you, but for me I don’t believe the person making the stationERY is credible. Actually, I stop looking at their product, even if it is cute because they spelled the word incorrectly. Yep. I went there.

You may be thinking, “wow! That Sara Stroman is a judgemental b**tch.”

Maybe, I am. Maybe I’m not.

Maybe, I’m someone who likes proper spelling, word usage and grammar.

Maybe, I’m simply  someone who thinks as a maker of stationERY, YOU, designer and stationer should know what you’re making.

One thing we’ve all learned is that first impressions are everything. My first impression of a “stationery” maker who doesn’t know how to spell “stationery” correctly, is  much like learning that a company has a farmer building and developing their website (unless he’s a web designer on the side, or was one in the past).

I’m in no way saying that a person who likes stationery and other paper products can not make their own or use stationery making as a creative process (same with the web designing farmer from above). I get that making creative projects is and can be therapeutic, but I don’t recommend you base a business off of it if from the very beginning you can’t spell the industry type you are in properly.

If you do a quick Google search for “stationary” you get a lot of “stationery” results. You even get (what I think may be my favorite) websites that properly spell “stationery”, but also include “stationary” in parenthesis for those who confuse the word.   Something that shocked me was seeing the National Stationery Show’s website appear under the search. I went to the website and didn’t see any reference to “stationary” on the site, so now I think they have “stationary” as a keyword in their coding. That’s more than likely the case.

The kicker to all of this is if you go to Etsy for “stationery”, you end up with a whole lot of “stationary”. I’m not joking. I’m not attacking anyone either, but look at the numbers on the Etsy search results page17,930 items for stationARY.Broken down into three categories there are: 16,395 handmade, 801 vintage, and 2,256 supplies.  AHHHH…it drives me crazy!

I’m assuming that the real issue is that people don’t know the difference in stationERY vs. stationARY, so I’m going to give you the definitions according to the fine  Webster’s II New Riverside Dictionary currently sitting on my desk:

1. sta·tion·er·(stā-shə-ˌner-ē) n. 1. Writing paper and envelopes. 2. Writing or typing materials. 

2. sta·tion·ar·y  (ˈstā-shə-ˌner-ē) adj. 1. a. Not moving. b. Not capable of being moved: fixed. 2. Unchanging. 

What’s the difference?

Can you see the difference? (I really hope you can!)

Yes, one is a noun and the other is  word that describes a noun, but the key difference is they have nothing to do with each other!

Yes,  stationery is an inanimate object (I would hope that it is not moving as you’re trying to write on it), but honestly, when I hear/read the word I still know that stationery is constantly in flux. Whether it is being made, sold, written on, mailed, read, saved (then it is stationary), folded, unfolded, opened, closed, in transit, it is always moving. Not to mention the power of stationery alone doesn’t allow it to be stationary, but let me stop because I’m getting philosophical here.

When I read the word “stationary” I immediately think of someone/thing  in place, not moving or doing anything. Sometimes I even think of the guards that stand around Buckingham Palace in London. They are stationary. However, they are NOT stationery, such as an envelope or card that I would write on. Although, how funny would that be?!  Can you just imagine going up to a Buckingham guard and writing on his face?

Now that you have the definitions, it is important to know that, there is a small sound difference in the two words. You may not hear it because you’re not paying attention to the words as they are spoken, but it is there, it’s just a matter of factors such as pronunciation and maybe even depends on the person’s accent (if they have one). The “a”in “stationary” is pronounced so you hear “airy” whereas the “er” in “stationery” is pronounced so you hear “erry”.

And to finalize the lesson, here are sentence examples for each word.

Stationary–  “The blank expressions on the stationary Buckingham Palace Guards remind me of those on marble sculptures.”

Stationery“I can not wait to start writing letters with my newly purchased stationery.” 

Why am I sharing this? What does all of this mean? Why do I have a bee in my bonnet?

Well, I think rather than foster confusion, we should address the problem. Yes, there will always be people who are confused and don’t always understand, but we should actively help those individuals who are simply ignorant in their confusion.

I also think they are hurting the stationery industry.   Of course people like Crane and William Arthur could care less, but they are well-known and established stationery companies.  Companies like mine, S2 Stationery and Design, are still small fish in a big ocean and while I’m not complaining about my business development (I like knowing I know how to properly use the word stationery and may not ever be a large company), I fear that the lack of knowledge puts the industry at a great loss.

What I mean is, HOW can you ask people to buy stationery to write on, when they don’t know how to write? By spelling stationery incorrectly, you are helping our culture lose a skill and an art that is based on knowledge of language.  So while my angry bee is buzzing about the lack of knowledge regarding the difference between ary and ery, the bee is also buzzing about the lack of responsibility stationers who make stationARY have toward culture and society.

As a stationer, who takes her stationery business seriously, but who also wants to foster education and communication, I find it extremely urgent that we address this issue. I’ve yet to figure out the exact how-to yet, but I think getting these thoughts out on the company blog is the step in the right direction.

I’m intrigued to find out how many others feel the same way I do…if you have any thoughts, comments, feedback, please  contact me, or leave a comment. Maybe we can start a stationery vs. stationary movement.

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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

4 thoughts on “Stationery vs. Stationary”

  1. This frustrates me to no end! Every time I see a so-called stationer spell their product “stationary”, I cringe and then go on a mini-rant. I just saw it in someone’s logo– and the sad part was, the invitations were quite cute, and very popular. I am just very disappointed. And the more people spell it like that, the ignorance will just be passed down. Sigh…

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