False Friends: seguridad ; security

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.

seguridad; security

Seguridad may certainly be rendered directly as “security” in many legal contexts. Common examples include seguridad social (“social security”), seguridad nacional (“national security”), securidad ciudadana (“citizen security”), empresa de securidad (“security company”), guardia de seguridad (“security guard”) or prisión de alta seguridad (“high security prison”).

But in other contexts, seguridad more appropriately denotes “safety.” This is the case in expressions such as seguridad e higiene en el trabajo (“health and safety in the workplace” or “occupational safety and health”), seguridad vial (“road safety”) or caja de seguridad (“safety deposit box”).

In addition to “security” and “safety,” seguridad must be rendered as “certainty” in the expression seguridad jurídica (“legal certainty”). And of course the opposite concept is falta de seguridad jurídica or inseguridad jurídica, which in English is “lack of legal certainty.”

In other respects, the expression Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad is often translated literally as “security forces,” but actually refers collectively to the various “police forces” operating in Spain as defined in Organic Law 2/1986. These include the national police forces (Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad del Estado) comprising the Guardia Civil and Cuerpo Nacional de Policía, and police forces at the regional (comunidad autónoma) and local levels. In that regard, several of Spain’s comunidades autónomas maintain regional police forces including Catalonia (Mossos d’Esquadra), the Basque Country (Ertzaintza), Navarre (Policía Foral) and the Canary Islands (Policía Canaria). At the municipal level there are likewise security forces known variously as Policía Municipal, Policía Local or Guardia Urbana.  In addition, and despite the name, Policía Judicial does not denote a separate police force within this scheme, but rather any member of the Fuerzas y Cuerpos de Seguridad who is assigned to the courts and/or who carries out a judicial order or acts in any way on behalf of the courts.

Special mention should perhaps be made of medidas de seguridad, which in criminal law contexts are not simply “security measures” or “safety measures,” as the expression has sometimes been rendered. As a type of criminal sentence, medidas de seguridad penales are custodial or non-custodial treatment orders that, for example, may be imposed on the perpetrator of a criminal offense who for reason of mental disorder has been declared exempt from criminal liability (declarado exento de responsibilidad criminal) by a court of law. In that regard, possible custodial measures include commitment to a correctional psychiatric hospital, a rehabilitation facility or a special education institution (internamiento en un hospital psiquiátrico penitenciario, centro de deshabituación o centro educativo especial).

In English, and among many other meanings, “security” (often in the plural, “securities”) denotes a series of títulos valores negociables (“marketable securities”) such as stocks and bonds (acciones y bonos). Thus, for example, “securities exchange” is mercado de valores, “Securities Act” is Ley del Mercado de Valores, and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is the US counterpart of Spain’s Comisión Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV).

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