The word ‘stationery’ refers to items sold by a stationer – writing materials and such. The word ‘stationary’ means not mobile, still. Both ‘stationery’ and ‘stationary’, however, are derived from the same root, the Latin stationarius meaning a fixed location. The direct adoption in ‘stationer’ of this sense of fixed place is accounted for by the fact that booksellers who plied their trade outside universities were one of the few vendors in the Middle Ages who weren’t itinerant. Books were sold to students from a fixed ‘station’ and later this stationer would come to sell pens and Paper (or quills and parchment, or whatever).
Now there is a (rather indifferently received) online petition to standardise the spelling of both senses to a single spelling, ‘stationary’. It is true that ‘stationery’ is often misspelt as ‘stationary’. As the petition text claims, when looking for office supplies, surfers often type in ‘stationary’ rather than ‘stationery’ into their search engines: Thus ‘business stationary’ is searched for more than ‘business stationery’. Ho hum…
Attempts to engineer language are notoriously successful, as the constant daily background babble of Esperanto pays testimony. If you feel strongly (let alone anything) about this issue,
you can sign the petition at ipetitions.com (petition now closed).
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