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).