False Friends: puro y simple ; “pure and simple”

When learning legal terminology in a bilingual context one of the first pitfalls encountered are so-called “false friends,” words or expressions that appear to be cognates, but are actually unrelated in meaning. Many years ago I set about identifying the “Top 40 False Friends in Spanish-English Legal Translation.” As the list grew I had to change the title to “101 False Friends.” In my collection I now have well over that number and will be sharing some of them in this blog. To be fair, many are only partial false friends that may actually be cognates when used in one branch of law, while perhaps qualifying as false friends in another legal practice area. And in some instances the cognate may simply not be the most appropriate rendering in legal contexts.

 Puro y simple isn’t so pure and simple!

In legal contexts puro/a (y simple) cannot generally be translated literally as “pure (and simple),” since the expression often means “unconditional.” Obligaciones puras (“unconditional obligations”) are those that are not subject to any condition or term (no sujetas a ningún tipo de condición, plazo o término) and, thus, payment or performance of those obligations may be demanded at any time. Donación pura y simple denotes an “unconditional gift,” in contrast to donación modal (or)  donación onerosa upon which the donor has imposed a condition or encumbrance. With regard to negotiable instruments (títulos valores), checks and bills of exchange (cheques y letras de cambio) must contain an “unconditional order to pay a fixed amount of money.” In Spanish this is expressed as un mandato puro y simple de pagar una suma determinada. And heredero puro y simple denotes an heir who accepts his inheritance unconditionally (known as aceptación pura y simple), without exercising the option to limit his liability for the debts of the inherited estate to the value of the inheritance (called beneficio de inventario).

Terminology Sources: puntoycoma

In this first entry on Spanish-English legal terminology resources I would like to highlight puntoycoma: Boletín de los traductores españoles de las instituciones de la Unión Europea. Published quarterly since 1991, in each issue legal and financial translators will inevitably find useful terminology on a wide variety of topics that are in no way limited to EU affairs. Of special interest are the extensive bilingual vocabularies published in the following issues:

Glosario de bolsa (16)

Glosario de la política comunitaria de competencia (80)

Glosario de términos y expresiones sobre la crisis económica (130, 131)

Glosario de terminología financiera (15)

Glosario de inovación y transferencia de tecnología (77)

Glosario de la propiedad industrial (61, 67)




Mistranslations (?) of abuso de derecho

Is this really a mistranslation_

abuso de derecho; abuse of process

Abuso de derecho has sometimes been inappropriately interpreted as referring to procedural abuse and thus translated as “abuse of process,” “malicious prosecution,” or “frivolous (or) vexatious litigation.” But as used in Spain (and in other Spanish-speaking jurisdictions) abuso de derecho is actually a much broader concept, being defined in Article 7.2 of the Código Civil as any acto u omisión que sobrepase manifiestamente los límites normales del ejercicio de un derecho, con daño para tercero. This Civil Code premise is often referred to in English as the “doctrine of abuse of rights,” defined as “the concept that the malicious or antisocial exercise of otherwise legitimate rights can give rise to civil liability.”* Thus, abuso de derecho is not “abuse of process,” and may be more accurately rendered in English as “abuse of rights,” or if a more precise, descriptive translation is warranted, “the abusive exercise of legitimate rights in detriment to the interests of a third party.”

In contrast, the concepts of “abuse of process,” “malicious prosecution,” or “frivolous (or) vexatious litigation” are perhaps more closely reflected in Spanish procedural terminology in expressions such as mala fe procesal, temeridad procesal or, depending on the context, even fraude procesal. In summary, abuso de derecho is a broad term denoting the abuse of a legitimate right in detriment to another person, while expressions such as “abuse of process,” “malicious prosecution,” and “frivolous (or) vexatious litigation” are limited to procedural contexts and describe abuses of the judicial process for ulterior or collateral purposes.


*“The doctrine of abuse of rights, found in various guises in Civil Law jurisdictions, refers to the concept that the malicious or antisocial exercise of otherwise legitimate rights can give rise to civil liability.” (From the Abstract to the article “The Doctrine of Abuse of Rights: Perspective from a Mixed Jurisdiction,” by Elspeth Reid, Electronic Journal of Comparative Law, Vol. 8.3, October, 2004)





Capsule Vocabularies: Trademarks

LeGal English_ _Brand_ & _Tracemark_(1)
ES-EN legal translators (and lawyers and professors) often require a minimum basic vocabulary in a specific area of law, something that they will be hard pressed to find searching word-by-word in a dictionary. (In this case, the “problem” with dictionaries is that they are in alphabetical order.) Blog entries labeled “Capsule Vocabularies” will feature some of the basic terminology lists developed for use by my students of legal English that I hope may also be of interest to translator and interpreter colleagues and other legal professionals.

Marcas (Trademarks)

Derecho de marcas; Derecho marcario—trademark law
marca—trademark; trade mark (UK)
marca denominativa—word mark
marca gráfica—device/design mark
marca mixta—composite mark
marca publicitaria—slogan mark
marca de fantasía—fanciful mark
marca tridimensional—three-dimensional mark
marca sonora—sound mark
marca de garantía—certification mark
marca colectiva—collective mark
marca de servicio—service mark
marca notoria—well-known mark (known to consumers in the sector)
marca renombrada—renowned mark (known to the public in general)
marca anterior—earlier mark
marca prioritaria—prior mark
marcas confrontadas—conflicting marks
marcas idénticas—identical marks
marcas incompatibles/confundibles/que inducen a confusión—confusingly similar marks
marca descriptiva—descriptive mark
marca consolidada/inatacable—incontestable mark
marca multiclase—multi-class mark
marca defensiva—defensive mark; defensive registration


Source: Rebecca Jowers. Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Valencia: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 925-926.


Mistranslations (?) of Derecho hipotecario

Is this really a mistranslation_

Derecho hipotecario; Ley hipotecaria; Distrito Hipotecario

Translators unfamiliar with Spanish law often automatically assume that the adjectives hipotecario and hipotecaria refer exclusively to mortgages (hipotecas). Thus there is an assumption that Derecho hipotecario is limited to “mortgage law” and that Ley hipotecaria refers to legislation specifically governing mortgages, and these mistakes have found their way into several bilingual legal dictionaries.

Although traditionally called Derecho hipotecario, in Spain this branch of law actually concerns the registration of rights in real property on the Land Register (Registro de la Propiedad). The fact that Derecho hipotecario is a misnomer (and that Derecho inmobiliario registral is a more accurate term) has been recognized in multiple Spanish legal sources. For example, Luis Ribó Durán in his Diccionario de Derecho (Bosch, 2005) explains that

“Derecho hipotecario es la parte del Derecho que estudia la adquisición, transmisión, modificación y extinción de los derechos sobre bienes inmuebles en cuanto éstos se reflejan en el Registro de la Propiedad. (…) La denominación Derecho inmobiliario registral, posiblemente la más adecuada, ha sido muchas veces postergada ante la de Derecho hipotecario, de más rancia tradición al enlazar con el nombre de la ley especial que, antes de la promulgación del vigente Código Civil, desmarcó de éste la materia inmobiliaria registral…”.

Likewise, in its article on “Derecho inmobiliario registral,” the Gran Enciclopedia Rialp (1991) notes that

“…generalmente, entre los autores españoles, se llama ‘Derecho hipotecario,’ denominación que obedece al título de la ley que regula la materia, la Ley Hipotecaria. Es claro que el nombre de la ley no responde a su contenido, pues en ella se regula, además de la hipoteca, todo referente al Registro de la Propiedad.

Thus, rendering Derecho hipotecario as “mortgage law” is misleading, while a translation that accurately reflects the true content of this legal discipline in Spain might be “Law of Land (or) Real Estate Registration” or “Land (or) Real Estate Registration Law,” etc. (The Registro de la Propiedad for England and Wales is called the “Land Registry.” There is no centralized land register for real property in the US where real estate is recorded in the state where it is located.)

Similarly, Ley Hipotecaria really cannot be appropriately translated as “Mortgage Act,” as it is often rendered. Although, as indicated above, part of the Ley Hipotecaria (93 articles) does indeed deal with mortgages per se, the true subject of the law (329 articles) is actually land registration, setting forth how the property registry (Registro de la Propiedad) is to be organized and stipulating the duties of property registrars (Registradores de la Propiedad). Thus, in this case Ley Hipotecaria might be more properly translated as “Land Registration Act” or “(Real) Property Registration Act,” while there may be other instances in which a law might be accurately described as a “mortgage act,” such as the Ley del Mercado Hipotecario (“Mortgage Market Act”).

In other respects, the expression Distrito Hipotecario is sometimes rendered as “Mortgage District,” but actually refers to a “land (or) property tax district.” And Oficina Liquidadora del Distrito Hipotecario denotes a “district land (or) property tax office” in charge of collecting transfer taxes and stamp duties levied on the transfer of real property and other transactions (impuestos sobre transmisiones patrimoniales y actos jurídicos documentados), as well as inheritance and gift taxes (impuestos sobre sucesiones y donaciones).

Confusing Terms: Who’s the victim?

Many confusing terms in legal Spanish and English are simply legal synonyms that are not always clearly distinguishable, often making it necessary to learn how each one is used in a specific context or in “set” phrases (frases hechas). Some may be interchangeable; others are limited to use in specific contexts. Those highlighted in this blog are ones that I have seen confused in translation or that my students have found most difficult to distinguish.

víctima; agraviado; ofendido; perjudicado

In English the person against whom a criminal offense is perpetrated is the “victim.” But ES-EN translators are often puzzled to find that the seemingly equivalent term víctima is not always the one used in Spain in the Criminal Code (Código Penal) or in the Criminal Procedure Act (Ley de Enjuiciamiento Criminal). In effect, although víctima is perhaps the most prevalent term, references to el agraviado por el delito and especially to el ofendido y perjudicado por el delito are frequent in both texts, and sometimes appear together in the same article. Article 771.1 of the LeCrim reads, “(la Policía Judicial) cumplirá con los deberes de información a las víctimas que prevé la legislación vigente. En particular, informará al ofendido y al perjudicado por el delito de forma escrita de los derechos que les asisten…Ofendido, perjudicado and víctima likewise appear together in Article 776.1.

Although there is often a good bit of imprecision and overlapping in their use, ofendido (and often agraviado) generally denote the direct victim of a crime, defined as the person whose legally-protected interest has been injured by the offense, the titular del bien jurídico protegido lesionado por el delito and, thus, el titular de la acción penal. In contrast, where a distinction is made, perjudicado generally denotes the person who has sustained an injury arising from the offense (que sufre económicamente o moralmente las consequencias del delito) and who is susceptible to being compensated with an award of civil damages, i.e., the sujeto pasivo del daño civil indemnizable or titular de la acción civil. This is the actor civil in criminal proceedings, the party seeking an award of damages based on civil liability incurred during the commission of an offense (reclamación de la responsabilidad civil derivada de la commisión de un delito). And, indeed,  ofendido (or) agraviado (the direct victim of the offense) and the perjudicado (the person who may claim damages from civil liability arising from the offense) are usually, but not necessarily, the same person. Víctima may refer to both. As Professor Martín Ríos has noted, la coincidencia en una misma persona de las cualidades de ofendido y perjudicado no solo es posible, sino que constituye el supuesto habitual a que da lugar la comisión de un delito o falta. Pese a hacer referencia a realidades diferenciables, para designar ambas posiciones hablamos (en un sentido criminológico) de ‘víctima.’ Dentro de tal concepto incluimos, por tanto, al sujeto pasivo del delito (el ofendido) como a quien directamente sufre, en su esfera patrimonial, los efectos del mismo (el perjudicado).”*

As a simple example to clarify the ofendido-perjudicado concept, in el delito de homicidio the ofendido is the person who dies as a consequence of the offense, while his surviving spouse and children would be the perjudicados.

In summary, the lexical (and legal) complexities of these terms are undoubtedly oversimplified in this explanation. And unless a distinction must be made in translation between the victim of a crime and the person claiming civil damages as a result of that offense, agraviado, ofendido, víctima and, often, perjudicado may usually be rendered simply as “victim.” In that regard it is perhaps best to avoid the confusing literal renderings that sometimes appear in translation (“injured party,” “the offended,” “the wronged party,” “the aggrieved,” etc.), since they may imply that the person in question is someone other than the victim of the crime.

*Mª del Pilar Martín Ríos. El ejercicio de la acción civil en el proceso penal: una aproximación victimólogica. (Madrid: La Ley, 2007), p. 42.


Capsule Vocabularies: auditorías

ES-EN legal translators (and lawyers and professors) often require a minimum basic vocabulary in a specific area of law, something that they will be hard pressed to find searching word-by-word in a dictionary. (In this case, the “problem” with dictionaries is that they are in alphabetical order.) Blog entries labeled “Capsule Vocabularies” will feature some of the basic terminology lists developed for my students of legal English that I hope may also be of interest to translator and interpreter colleagues and other legal professionals.

Auditorías (Audits)

Normas Internacionales de Auditoría (NIA)—International Standards on Auditing (ISA)
sociedad de auditoría—audit firm; auditing company
comité de auditoría—audit committee
contrato de auditoría; carta de encargo; carta-propuesta—audit contract
honorarios del auditor—auditor’s fees
auditoría de cuentas; censura de cuentas—auditing of accounts
auditoría de las cuentas anuales—audit of annual accounts/financial statements
auditoría annual—annual audit
auditoría especial—special audit
auditor; censor—auditor
censor jurado de cuentas—certified auditor
auditor individual—individual auditor
auditor independiente—independent auditor
auditor interno—internal auditor
documentación de auditoría (papeles de trabajo)—audit documentation (working papers)
imagen fiel—true and fair view; fair presentation
imagen fiel del patrimonio y de la situación financiera de la empresa auditada—true and fair view of the audited company’s assets and financial position
marco de información financiera applicable—applicable financial reporting framework
marco de imagen fiel—fair presentation framework
marco de cumplimiento—compliance framework
evidencia de auditoría—audit evidence
riesgo de auditoría—audit risk
riesgo inherente—inherent risk
riesgo de control—control risk
riesgo de detección—detection risk
riesgo de incorrección—misstatement risk; risk of misstatement
juicio professional—profesional judgment
escepticismo professional—professional skepcticism
seguridad razonable—reasonable assurance
informe de auditoría—audit report
opinión de los auditores—auditors’ opinion
opinión favorable—unqualified opinion; clean opinion
opinión con salvedades—qualified opinion
opinión desfavorable—adverse opinion
opinion denegada—disclaimer of opinion