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I was writing the word “stationary” the other day, and wondering like always whether I was spelling the correct word. Then I had a brilliant idea: look up its etymology. I made a guess at the etymology of the

paper kind, that its root is “stationer” and that it came from the note paper, schedule books, tickets that train station clerks used. I tried to think whether “-ary” can be a suffix that means “pertaining to this thing”: “glossary”, “granary”, “planetary” – I can see it.

So. Research results trump speculation:

stationery (n.) 1727, from stationery wares (c. 1680) “articles sold by a stationer,” from stationer “seller of books and paper” (q.v.) + -y (1).

stationer (n.) “book-dealer, seller of books and paper,” early 14c. (late 13c. as a surname), from Medieval Latin stationarius “tradesman who sells from a station or shop,” noun use of Latin stationarius (see stationary). Roving peddlers were the norm in the Middle Ages; sellers with a fixed location often were bookshops licensed by universities; hence the word acquired a more specific sense than its etymological one.

compared to

stationary (adj.) late 14c., “having no apparent motion” (in reference to planets), from Middle French stationnaire “motionless” and directly from Latin stationarius, from the stem of statio “a standing, post, job, position” (see station (n.)). Meaning “unmovable” is from 1620s. In classical Latin, stationarius is recorded only in the sense “of a military station;” the word for “stationary, steady” being statarius.

-ary (adjective and noun word-forming element) in most cases from Latin -arius, -aria, -arium “connected with, pertaining to; the man engaged in,” from PIE relational adjective suffix *-yo- “of or belonging to.” The neuter of the adjectives in Latin also were often used as nouns (solarium “sundial,” vivarium, honorarium, etc.). It appears in words borrowed from Latin in Middle English. In later borrowings from Latin to French, it became -aire and passed into Middle English as -arie, subsequently -ary.

I don’t think I’ll ever again forget the proper spelling for each.

All etymologies found and copied from www.EtymOnline.com

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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