Notable - notary - noticeable

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The three words notable, notary and noticeable (all three pronounced with the first vowel as in 'note', IPA: /əʊ/) have been confused, in different ways. They should not be: they have separate meanings, although a common root. Notary is only normally used as a noun, and is sometimes confused with the sense of notable as a noun; notable and noticeable have been confused as adjectives.

  • First, the confusion between the nouns. This is becoming more common in journalism, and should be regarded as a malapropism:
    • a notary (more fully a notary public) is a lawyer, usually a solicitor, who is licensed by the state to perform certain legal functions in a way that is recognized internationally. (The term 'notary', or its equivalent, is mare common in countries with Roman Law systems.) This term is rarely needed outside certain legal contexts, such as certifying an identity, a contract or similar legal document to the satisfaction of a non-British legal system. As well as notaries public (the correct plural form), there are ecclesiastical notaries (usually diocesan registrars and the legal secretaries of bishops) and district notaries (who practise in a limited area). General notaries may practise anywhere in England and Wales. Diplomatic and consular officials may exercise notarial functions outside the UK. (See Law and Martin, 2009.)
    • A notable (as a noun) is "a noteworthy, eminent, or distinguished person" (OED). This is the more common noun of the two discussed here.
  • As adjectives,
    • notable means 'important', 'worthy of comment' or 'distinguished'. Notable is more or less interchangeable with noteworthy. It is normally a word with positive connotations;
    • noticeable means 'clear enough to be noticed'. It is often used in statistical statements: "the increase in the rate of infection in 2000 is noticeable." (Note that the word is spelled with a 'silent '-e-'' in the middle, to make the 'c' 'soft'


Etymological note: all three words are derived from nota, the Latin original of the word 'note': notable through the adjectival form notabilis 'noteworthy'; noticeable through the noun notitia 'a biographical notice', 'a bit of information'; and notary through notarius, 'a man who makes notes', 'one who writes down [legally binding] records [of contracts etc]', 'a taker of minutes'. Nota itself is from the past participle, notus, of the verb noscere 'to know' or 'to get to know'. Notare is the Latin for 'to make a note'.