6

A recent discussion arose on how to spell the term "confectionery", as used to refer to a collection/group of sweets. Most people believed it was actually spelled "confectionary". Spellcheck programs suggest only the former spelling is correct. But a quick google to resolve it suggests that these words have two distinct meanings:

  • Confectionery is the act of making chocolates. To confect something.
  • Confectionary refers to a place that sells confections

Which is confusing, but kind of feels right. However, neither word means a group of sweets which is probably the most common way in which this term is actually used. Looking at the above definitions suggests that the proper word for this is simply a plural: confections.

So, when referring to a group of sweets, is it correct to use the term "confectionery"? If so which is the correct spelling, or are both correct? And what's the grammar, etymology at play here?

3
  • 1
    Confectionery is ALWAYS a noun, and is the only version that can be used as a collective term for sweetmeats and confections. Confectionary is normally an adjective (the noun sense a confectioner is obsolete) but it can be used as a "dated" alternative for place where confections are made/sold, or (again, dated) as a singular noun meaning a confection. That -ery = noun, -ary = adjective distinction is normal in English. – FumbleFingers Mar 11 '15 at 17:07
  • Why isn't "a group of sweets" called confectioneries or confections? – Mazura Mar 11 '15 at 22:54
  • @Mazura they can be, but confectionery is also a common term. It's partly the diversity of words for this that piqued my interest. – Bob Tway Mar 12 '15 at 8:58
7

The two term actually have the same meaning regarding the making of sweets and the place where the sweets are made, but the -ery suffix is actually more common:

Confectioner (n.) :

  • 1590s, agent noun from confection.

Confectionery:

  • 1540s, "things made or sold by a confectioner," from confection + -ery. Of architectural ornamentation, from 1861.

Confectionary:

  • c.1600, "confection maker," also "confection maker's shop," from confection + -ary. As an adjective, from 1660s.

(from Etymonline)

Ngram: confectionary vs cofectionery

  • Although we see it spelt both ways on a regular basis, it is most definitely confectionery as in fact confectionary is a common misspelling; it is so common that it actually appears in several dictionaries as a place where confections are kept and made. However according to the Oxford English Dictionary confectionery is the correct spelling for both ‘a shop that sells sweets and chocolates’ and ‘sweets and chocolates considered collectively’.

  • In the 18th century the confectioner was a highly regarded craftsman who was seen to be so skilful that he was considered to be far elevated above that of a cook or baker. The confectionery created in this time was well respected by the upper classes and was not only used as a dessert but as extravagant decoration. Many confectioners ran their own shops offering a wide variety of spectacular treats including sweetmeats, marshmallows, biscuits, macaroons and much more. They also provided a variety of fashionable table pieces made from glass and porcelain that could be hired or bought which enabled aristocrats to wow their guests at lavish soirees. Even in these early days confectioners were selling their products wholesale to household staff who wanted to please their employers with an appealing array of confectionery.

  • During this time candied fruits were frequently being made in England. To make these candies or ‘rock works’ as they were more commonly known, the confectioner needed to wash the syrup from previously preserved fruits with warm water and then dry them in a stove. The candies were then rolled in powdered sugar or given a frosted coating. The 17th and 18th century are considered the greatest period of experimentation in the confectionery history of England, this was the time when sugar was becoming widely available across the country and confectioners were developing new and inventive products to wow their customers.

  • We have these sugar pioneers to thank for creating such an extensive and exciting array of confectionery that was the inspiration for the enormous range of chocolate and sweets available to buy today.

5

I've done a dictionary comparison on senses and assessment of frequencies of usage as given by AHDEL, Collins and RHK Webster's for both confectionary and confectionery:

1. A confectioner's shop

confectionary (AHDEL; sense listed 1)(RHKW 3)

confectionery (AHDEL 3)(RHKW 3)

2. Sweet preparations; confections

confectionary (AHDEL 2)(Collins 2; rare)(RHKW, a sweetmeet)

confectionery (AHDEL 1)(Collins 1)(RHKW 1)

3. Obsolete A confectioner

confectionary (AHDEL 3)

4. A place where confections are made / kept

confectionary (Collins 1)

5. The skill / art / occupation / business of a confectioner

confectionery (AHDEL 2)(Collins 2)(RHKW 2).

This seems to imply that there is some but not total choice.

1

Confectionery is the only spelling I'd use - as a teacher of English in England. My Oxford Concise Dictionary has no entry or reference to the -ary spelling. When I Googled the -ary spelling all the first two pages of results showed the -ery spelling.

I conclude that there is no -ary spelling in British English. Other variants are beyond my competence.

2
  • I'd love to know how you define British English. And I'm talking about a definition, not a loose 'the form of the language usually used in the UK'. Prescriptiveness becomes ludicrous; I remember when GCSE candidates would lose a mark in English for the spelling sulfur but would lose a mark in Science for the spelling sulphur. Here, without going into the various polysemes, Google Ngrams restricted to UK corpora show that 'confectionary' is used, and the word is listed in the online Collins. Flagged as 'rare' for the 'confections' sense, but the only variant licensed for 'place made'. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 11 '15 at 22:56
  • I just googled it and "confectionary" is in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 8th, 9th and 10th results. Possibly your google settings are different from mine. google.com/search?q=confectionary – Bob Tway Mar 12 '15 at 9:06

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.