In his 1963 work “The Language of the Law,” the eminent legal linguist David Mellinkoff observed that legal discourse often uses “common words with uncommon meanings.” Indeed, in both Spanish and English common words and expressions often take on unexpected meanings when used in legal contexts, and there are many simple, seemingly inoffensive everyday words and expressions that can prompt translation mistakes if their special legal meanings are ignored. In this section I include some of the presumably simple legal English expressions that my students and translation clients have found most puzzling, along with a selection of legal Spanish terms that may stump translators when initially entering the legal translation field.
book; booking; to book
References to “books” in legal contexts often concern some aspect of accounting (contabilidad). For example, “accounting books” are obviously libros de contabilidad, while “book value” is valor en libros or valor contable. In that regard, “bookkeeping” (literally, llevanza de libros) is a common expression for the recording of accounting information, and “to keep the books” may be expressed as llevar la contabilidad. Thus, a person who keeps accounting records may be referred to as a “bookkeeper,” while the expression “double-entry bookkeeping” (or “double-entry accounting”) refers to the commonly accepted método de contabilidad de partida doble. In that regard, in this context the colloquial expression “to cook the books,” refers to falsifying financial information and is often expressed in Spanish as maquillar las cifras.
In other respects, in the context of securities law “book-entry securities” are valores representados mediante anotaciones en cuenta, and the dematerialized (uncertificated) “book-entry system” is known as sistema de anotaciones en cuenta. Thus Mercado de Deuda Pública en Anotaciones is a reference to Spain’s Government Book-entry Investment Securities Market.
And in criminal law contexts “booking” refers to entry on the police register of information concerning a criminal suspect who is being placed under arrest (fichar al detenido). The booking procedure of an arrestee (procedimiento de fichaje del detenido) typically includes taking his photograph and fingerprints (tomarle la fotografía y las huellas). Thus the expression “he was booked at the police station” means le ficharon en comisaría.