Latinismos: de cuius

Many legal translators simply choose not to translate Latin expressions into English or Spanish, leaving them as they appear in the original text. And, indeed, there are certainly dozens of latinismos used “as is” in both legal Spanish and legal English. Nevertheless, many of them do have accepted renderings in the other language that should probably be used instead of the Latin in translated texts. And when the Latin phrase in question is not in general use in the other language, a definitional translation may be warranted. In blog entries under Latinismos I will highlight some of the Latin expressions that I have encountered most often in my work.

de cuius

The Latin term de cuius often appears in texts dealing with inheritance law (Derecho de sucesiones) and is an abbreviation of the expression de cuius hereditate agitur meaning “the one whose estate is at issue.” Thus, like causante (and often difunto, fallecido or finado) de cuius denotes la persona que causa o produce una herencia. In this context de cuius (as well as causante and the other terms mentioned above) may be rendered in English simply as “the deceased” or “the decedent.”







False Friends: recuento ; recount

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.

recuento; recount

These terms are certainly look-alikes, but as used in electoral law (Derecho electoral) recuento and “recount” may or not be cognates, depending on the context. In English “vote recount” refers exclusively to a second or repeat tabulation of votes when the accuracy of the initial vote tally is questioned. The most famous case of an election recount in recent history is undoubtedly the vote recount conducted in Florida during the 2000 presidential election between George W. Bush and Al Gore. In Spanish, however, recuento may denote both the initial tallying of votes or, as in English, a second vote count. In that regard, the DRAE defines recontar as contar o volver a contar el número de cosas. Thus recuento de votos may be a synonym of escrutinio de votos denoting the counting of votes for the first time, as in Los colegios electorales han cerrado y ha comenzado el recuento de votos (“The polling stations have closed and the counting of votes has commenced”). But, as in English, recuento de votos may also refer to a “recount,” i.e., to a second or subsequent canvassing of votes. This was implicit, for example, in news articles published in Spain concerning the 2000 US election recount, such as one entitled La victoria de Bush depende del recuento en Florida.

The same may apply in other contexts. Recuento físico de existencias denotes a “physical inventory,” “inventory count” or “physical stock-taking,” and may refer to an initial inventory or stock count (its usual meaning) or a second or subsequent one. In contrast, in English the expression “inventory (or) stock recount” always denotes a second or subsequent review of stock after an initial inventory has been conducted.

In other respects, in the context of corrections law (Derecho penitenciario) recuento has a totally different meaning. In that regard, expressions such as recuento de internos or recuento de reclusos refer to an “inmate headcount” or “inmate rollcall.”

Legal English for Spanish-speakers: Nouns with Postpositive Adjectives

When Spanish-speakers learn English they are generally taught that, unlike in Spanish, adjectives are placed before the noun (the “red house,” not the “house red;” the “green car,” not the “car green”). But in legal usage (and often in everyday English too!) there are a series of nouns followed by what are often termed “postpositive (or) postnominal adjectives.” Here are a few examples with (possible) Spanish renderings:

accounts payable—acreedores; cuentas por pagar
accounts receivable—deudores; cuentas por cobrar
body corporate—entidad con personalidad jurídica (corporation; legal entity)
condition precedent—condición suspensiva
condition subsequent—condición resolutoria
corporation de facto—sociedad irregular
corporation de jure—sociedad regular
consul general—consul general
court martial—tribunal militar; consejo de guerra
fee simple absolute—dominio pleno
heir apparent—heredero presunto/forzoso
law merchant—Derecho mercantil
letters patent—patente
letters rogatory—comisión rogatoria
notary public—notario público
secretary general—secretario general
sum certain—precio cierto

To form the plural of these expressions it is generally the noun that is made plural, while the adjective remains unchanged (bodies corporate; conditions precedent/subsequent; consuls general; courts martial; heirs apparent; notaries public; secretaries general; sums certain, etc.)

(For a detailed explanation and many more examples see Bryan Garner, “Garner’s Dictionary of Legal Usage,” Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 692.)