Latinismos: What is a subpoena?

Latin for Lawyers

A previous blog post examined the meaning of “summons” and the contexts in which it can be translated as either citación or emplazamiento. But what about the related Latin term “subpoena”? “Sub poena” is Latin for “under penalty” (bajo pena), and a subpoena is an order to appear in court in which failure to comply will incur some form of punishment. “Subpoena” (a secas) generally denotes a “subpoena ad testificandum,” an order compelling a witness to appear in court to testify, specifying the time and date on which to do so. After the 1997 Civil Procedure reform, in England and Wales a subpoena is now known as a “witness summons.” A second form of subpoena, a “subpoena duces tecum” (“duces tecum” = “bring with you”) orders a witness to appear in court with documents, records or other items of evidence of interest in an ongoing trial.

Any translation of subpoena must reflect the fact that there will be a penalty for failure to comply with the terms of that order. Thus possible Spanish renderings of subpoena include citación con apercibimiento, citación coercitiva and citación intimatoria.


Capsule Vocabularies: Terminology of Spanish Divorce Proceedings


Although Spain has what may be described as “no fault divorce” (divorcio no causal), and one spouse needn’t allege grounds for divorce (causas de divorcio) against the other, divorce proceedings follow ordinary civil procedure. Thus in contested divorces (divorcios contenciosos) the spouse initiating the proceeding (the demandante) “sues” the other spouse (the demandado) by filing a petition for divorce (interponiendo demanda de divorcio).

Translation mistakes may result from the failure to recognize that the terminology of civil procedure is not commonly used in divorce proceedings in Anglo-American jurisdictions where specific, less “contentious” terms are preferred in this and in other family proceedings. In that regard it should be noted that a demanda de divorcio is often not a “complaint” or “claim,” but rather a “petition for divorce.” The spouse initiating the divorce is a “petitioner,” rather than a “plaintiff” or “claimant” (demandante).” Likewise, the spouse against whom divorce is sought is called the “respondent,” rather than a “defendant” (demandado). And in this context estimar la demanda de divorcio would be translated as “to grant a divorce,” while sentencia de divorcio is widely known as a “divorce decree.”

Some of the basic vocabulary concerning divorce proceedings in Spain is provided below:

  • divorcio—divorce
  • divorcio judicial—judicially-decreed divorce
  • causas de divorcio—grounds for divorce
  • divorcio causal; sistema causalista—fault-based divorce
  • divorcio no causal; divorcio sin alegar causa—no-fault divorce
  • divorcio contencioso—contested divorce; defended divorce (UK)
  • divorcio no contencioso—uncontested divorce; undefended divorce (UK)
  • divorcio de mutuo acuerdo—divorce by mutual consent
  • “divorcio exprés”—expedited divorce*
  • demanda de divorcio—divorce petition; petition for divorce
  • demandante—petitioner
  • demandado—respondent
  • estimar la demanda de divorcio—to grant a divorce
  • sentencia de divorcio—divorce decree

*Informal expression denoting a mutually-agreed expedited no-fault divorce proceeding introduced in the Ley 15/2005 divorce reform, requiring no separation period and that may be filed after only three months of marriage.

Source: Rebecca Jowers, Léxico temático de terminología jurídica español-inglés. Madrid: Tirant lo Blanch, 2015, pp. 720-721.

Terminology Sources: Fundéu

Terminology Sources

For anyone interested in Legal Spanish (and Spanish language in general), Fundéu (Fundación del Español Urgente) is a must. Since 2005, in this collaborative effort of the Agencia EFE news agency, BBVA (Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria) and the Real Academia Española, Fundéu’s team of journalists, linguists, lexicographers, translators and other language professionals have provided a forum for promoting the correct usage of Spanish in the communications media and everywhere else. As their mission statement indicates, “mediante recomendaciones diarias y respuestas a las consultas que recibimos, pretendemos ser una herramienta que ayude a todos aquellos que utilizan el idioma en su actividad diaria en los medios de comunicación, las redes sociales, las nuevas plataformas digitales…

Are cohecho and soborno the same?


Cohecho and soborno are synonyms that can both usually be appropriately rendered as “bribe” or “bribery,” but in Spanish criminal law there is an important difference. Soborno is a generic term for “bribery” or a “bribe,” sobornante being the person who offers a bribe (“briber;” “bribe-giver”), and sobornado the person who takes or accepts a bribe (“bribee” or “bribe-taker”). In contrast, cohecho is a criminal offense (one of the Delitos contra la Administración Pública) specifically involving bribery of a public official or civil servant (autoridad o funcionario público). In that regard, cohecho is defined in the Criminal Code as solicitar o recibir dádiva o presente o aceptar ofrecimiento o promesa para realizar una acción u omisión constitutivas de delito u otro acto injusto (soliciting, receiving or accepting compensation or gifts or the offer or promise thereof in exchange for doing or refraining from doing something  constituting a criminal offense or other unfair conduct). A distinction is made between cohecho activo (offering a bribe to a public official), and cohecho pasivo (acceptance of a bribe by a public official). Spanish criminal law likewise distinguishes between cohecho propio (bribery in which in exchange for the bribe the bribee commits acts constituting a criminal offense) and cohecho impropio (bribery in which in exchange for the bribe the bribee commits acts that are not prohibited by law and that may simply fall within the official’s normal duties).

Although cohecho is sometimes associated with judges, the Spanish Criminal Code likewise specifically mentions jurors, arbitrators and expert witnesses among the persons included in this category of offense (jurados, árbitros, peritos, o cualesquiera personas que participen en el ejercicio de la función pública). Thus, if a public official accepts a bribe he is guilty of the criminal offense of cohecho while bribery involving private individuals might simply be referred to as soborno.

Cohecho is sometimes translated as “corruption,” a term that is perhaps too broad. Indeed, in many Anglo-American jurisdictions “corruption” and “corruption offenses” are umbrella terms that include not only bribery (cohecho), but also other corrupt practices committed by public officials such as embezzlement (malversación), misappropriation (apropiación indebida) or influence peddling (tráfico de influencias), among others.

Vocabulary recap:

  • cohecho; soborno—bribe; bribery
  • cohecho activo—bribing; offering a bribe
  • cohecho pasivo—soliciting/accepting/receiving/taking a bribe
  • sujeto activo del cohecho; cohechador activo—briber; bribe-giver
  • sujeto pasivo del cohecho; cohechador pasivo—bribee; bribe-taker

Read more here.

Don’t Confuse alimentos and “alimony”

Oh, no! False Friends

Alimentos has been rendered as “alimony” in several bilingual dictionaries but in Spanish law these expressions are not cognates. “Alimony” (also called “spousal support,” “spousal maintenance,” “financial provision for spouse,” etc.) is the English-language equivalent of what in Spanish law is known as a pensión compensatoria, a court-ordered allowance that one spouse pays to the economically weaker one as the result of a separation or divorce agreement (called convenio regulador) “para compensar el desequilibrio económico padecido por un cónyuge ” (Art. 97 CC). In Spain spousal support orders may provide for “permanent alimony” (pensión compensatoria indefinida), “temporary alimony,” (pensión compensatoria temporal), or “lump sum alimony” or “alimony in gross” (prestación compensatoria única; prestación a tanto alzado).

Rather than referring to “alimony,” in this context alimentos refers to a pensión alimenticia para los hijos, denoting what in English is most commonly known as “child support,” the amount paid after separation or divorce (usually by the noncustodial or nonresidential parent to the custodial or residential parent) for expenses incurred for children of the marriage (also called “child maintenance,” “child support maintenance,” etc.)

In a broader sense alimentos may likewise denote an obligación de alimentos or deuda alimenticia, i.e., a family member’s legal obligation to provide economic maintenance to another (Arts. 142 ff. CC). In this context, alimentante refers to the family member who provides economic support or maintenance to another, i.e., the “support (or) maintenance provider,” while the “support (or) maintenance recipient,” is described as an alimentista.