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.
Usurpación is used in the definition of several types of criminal offense for which the literal translation “usurpation” may not be the most appropriate. In this context, usurpación generally denotes “unlawful appropriation.” The specific offense of usurpación de inmuebles may be rendered in many cases as “squatting.” Usurpación de estado civil broadly describes various modes of “identity theft,” while usurpación de atribuciones generally denotes “misappropriation of powers.” In that regard, usurpación de funciones públicas may refer to “improper assumption of office” or perhaps to “impersonating a public official,” while usurpación de funciones policiales is “impersonating a police officer.” In the terminology of intellectual property offenses, usurpación often has the meaning of “infringement,” as in usurpación de patentes y modelos o dibujos industriales (“infringement of patents and industrial models or designs”). In official EU documents the expression usurpación de marca is sometimes translated as “counterfeiting,” as in la lucha contra la usurpación de marca y la piratería (“the fight against counterfeiting and piracy”). And, finally, usurpación may also be used to describe several types of computer crime such as “cybersquatting” (usurpación de nombres de dominio), “email spoofing” (usurpación de direcciones de correo electrónico) or “web spoofing” (usurpación de contenidos de páginas web).