Stationery, with an 'e'
If you like, you can go to itpetitions.com and sign an electronic petition to change the spelling of stationery* to stationary. It would simplify the language, and the organizers apparently believe that dictionaries have the power to do this.
The petition, however, has garnered a mere 38 signatures, and a third of those are “Anonymous” — no doubt reflecting anxiety over losing their jobs if the signatories’ radical proclivities become public.
Moreover, Bill Brohaugh points out at Everything You Know About English Is Wrong that while stationary and stationery both derive ultimately from the Latin stationarius, or a fixed place where something is located, "the person operating from a stationary location known as a station was a stationer, and therefore the adjective ‘stationery wares,’ which know is known as stationery.’ ” There is a reason to maintain the distinction, and Mr. Brohaugh is sticking to it. So am I.
Petitions like this, if they are not simply jokes, betray a misunderstanding of how things work. Dictionaries, for one, follow the language; they do not legislate for it. The availability of dictionaries and the spread of public education over the past couple of centuries have probably had a strong influence in standardizing spelling and some usages, but that’s about as far as it goes.
Language is purely democratic: If enough people use particular words or grammatical constructions long enough, including usages that are “errors,” they become part of the language. That is why we no longer speak Anglo-Saxon, or, for that matter, Norman French.
You cannot lobby to change the language, and you cannot legislate changes. All the simplified spelling efforts — including those by George Bernard Shaw and the mighty Col. Robert Rutherford McCormick — have had little or no effect. The Academie francaise enunciates strictures to which very few Francophones pay much attention, and the English-speaking nations have always stoutly resisted the establishment of any such academy. George Orwell was mistaken in speculating that a totalitarian society could control people’s thought by controlling their vocabulary; the example of the late and unlamented Union of Soviet Socialist Republics is pertinent here.
Language, like Ol’ Man River, just keeps rolling along, and attempts to dam or divert its course rarely produce the consequences that the would-be engineers intend.
* That’s paper, for those of you who may be confused.