False Friends: Pay me but don’t take retribution!

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.

retribución; retribution

These terms are true false cognates. Retribución denotes recompensa o pago de algo. In contrast, “retribution” only rarely has the meaning of recompense or reward, and is usually associated with punishment (castigo) or taking vengeance (venganza) for wrongdoing, often being used in that sense in criminal law contexts (“retributive justice,” the “retributive theory of punishment,” etc.). Thus in corporate law contexts, retribución de los administradores (or) consejeros refers to “directors’ remuneration (or) compensation,”* rather than “directors’ retribution,” as the expression has often been mistranslated in Spanish sources. In that regard, the boards of directors of large Spanish corporations often have a Comité de Nombramientos y Retribuciones (“Appointments and Remuneration (or) Compensation Committee”). And in this context, retribución en especie refers to “non-cash compensation” or “compensation in kind,” while retribución por horas extraordinarias is “overtime pay.” Other examples include política de retribuciones (“remuneration policy;” “compensation policy”); paquete de retribuciones (“pay package”) and retribución por vacaciones (“vacation/holiday pay”).

*“Compensation” would perhaps be the preferred term in the US, while “remuneration” is more often used in the UK.


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