Reminiscing with would

Do you ever talk about what you did when you were a kid? When you first met your wife/husband? I know I do. When we reminisce like this in English, we often use the modal verb would. Example: When I was a boy, I would go to the drugstore to buy candy. It serves to describe something you did in the past that you don't necessarily do now. I associate this usage with nostalgia. Note: This use of would is not the same as the conditional (I would go, but I have a cold.). Bob "Baldy" Bobbit was telling me about when he was young and in love. Let's hear about what he has to say: Back when I was at Hairtown Hair Academy, I met this cute redhead named Bonnie. Usually, I'm outgoing with the ladies, bu

The Unabomber, Forensic Linguistics to the Rescue!

If there is anything I've learned about forensic linguistics, it is not to underestimate the power of language. This becomes evident in the Unabomber case in which Ted Kaczynski sent a series of mail bombs, maiming and killing several victims. After years of pursuing the Unabomber through various tactics, a former Philadelphia policeman come FBI agent named James Fitzgerald worked incessantly, analyzing every scrap of Kaczynski's writing. Having no formal training in linguistics, Fitzgerald was able to pinpoint the oddities he found in his suspect's writing that defined his idiolect. For example, some letters included the seemingly backward phrase "have your cake and eat it too." Interesting

Final defense witness in Garcia Zarate case questions SFPD translation

It amazes me how people can overlook the seriousness of translating/interpreting. Many think it is something that any bilingual person can do. In this article, we learn that a homeless man's innocence hinges on the inadequacy of a makeshift interpreter. It just goes to show that just because you can hammer nails doesn't mean you should be a carpenter! Officer who interrogated homeless immigrant didn't distinguish between the gun discharging and Garcia Zarate pulling the trigger By Tim Redmond - November 9, 2017 The defense in the trial of Jose Ines Garcia Zarate called its last witness today, ending a week of testimony that challenged the central elements in the prosecution’s murder case. Fa

Quiz: How much do you know about translation?

The more you know about a product or service, the better equipped you are to make advantageous decisions. Here is a little quiz about Spanish translation: 1. How are translating and interpreting different? a) Translation is spoken; interpreting is written. b) Interpreting is spoken; translation is written. c) Translation is done with a computer; interpreting is done with a microphone. d) All of the above. 2. Does being bilingual mean that you are a translator? a) Yes, always. b) No, never. c) Yes, if you have the right training and skills. d) None of the above. 3. Why is it important for translators to translate into their native language? a) It's not. It's better to translate into the langu

Why you cannot rely on machine translation for your content

Machine translation is especially pernicious to legal documents! R2D2 and The-Birth-of-Venus by Pilcrow What would a machine feel by looking at the birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli? Nothing! A specialised program could tell you what was drawn, the technique and material used, but it would fail to understand the emotions and the beauty which emanates from the art work. The same is true with language. Language does not only convey information, it also carries emotions. If Les Misérables of Victor Hugo had been written by a machine it would be a painful read, like opera sung by your satnav, and poor Cosette's plight would fail to get your attention. This is also the case for your corporate c

LawProse Lesson #272: Ending your sentences with punch

Both translators and attorneys are writers at heart. Here's a hearty tip for both of us! Last week, we addressed the legal writer’s bad habit of emphasizing words by using unsightly and outdated underlining. The better substitute for highlighting specific words or short phrases is italics. Yet there’s a syntactic practice that can be even more effective and forceful: ending your sentences emphatically. Skilled writers know that the most emphatic position in a sentence is not at the beginning—but at the end. A well-written sentence is a crescendo, its final word or phrase being the climax. With practice, this technique becomes easier to recognize and master, but here are some general tips: (1

LawProse Lesson #280: A short English-usage quiz

As a follow-up to our legal-usage quiz from last week, here are 10 questions of common English usage that can trip up even the most careful writers. Try your hand first and then check the answers at the end. Before we meet with the client, can you talk briefly with Margaret and [(a) I, (b) me]? Each of the defendants [(a) were, (b) was] required to perform 500 hours of community service. He has [(a) drunk, (b) drank] six cups of coffee in the last two hours. The signed contract was [(a) lying, (b) laying] on the corner of Sam’s desk the whole time. What are you calling in [(a) regards, (b) regard] to? The 4th floor of the library [(a) is comprised of, (b) comprises] several thousand books pu

The ABCs of Apostilles

Have you ever seen a document bearing the stamp shown above? Has anyone required you to affix an apostille on a public document? The word apostille originally comes from Latin: post illa then French, meaning a marginal note. It is an international certification issued to a public document signed for use in another country. Documents that may require an apostille are: birth certificates, marriage certificates, judgments, corporate records, patents and notarized acknowledgments. Before The Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization for Foreign Public Documents, these documents underwent a slow, expensive processes called legalization which involved authentication in both the

Bryan Garner's 5 Tips on Concise Writing

All of these tips, coming from Bryan Garner, a leading expert on plain English and plain Legal English, will help your writing immensely. If you are writing legal English, the only tip I wouldn't recommend is using contractions.

Did you know? Strange laws from Latin America

Some laws are obvious. Just about everywhere you go, there are laws against speeding or shoplifting, laws regulating the purchase and consumption of alcohol and zoning laws that dictate what kind of building you can construct where. But what about laws that don't make any sense? Some are outdated and others are cultural. Can you think of any? Here are seven for your enjoyment. 1. In Mexico, all males must wear trousers, and such groups of employees as hack drivers and newspaper delivery boys must adopt uniforms. 2. Back in the '80s, it was illegal to jog or exercise in Panama if you were wearing a white t-shirt and beige trunks. Why? Manuel Noriega was a ruthless leader and wanted to impriso

Top 7 Spanish-English Legal Dictionaries

If you are a lawyer working with documents in Spanish, you may come across some terms you are not sure about. After all, each Latin American country has a different set of laws, and with them, different terms. Some of these terms contradict terms from other countries that are apparently identical, but carry a different meaning. Other terms can baffle you, and a good dictionary could be the key to unlock the unknown. Here are five dictionaries/glossaries that will aid anyone involved in legal translation. Dictionary of Mexican Legal Terminology Javier Becerra An amazing book that explains just about every Mexican legal term under the sun. Mr. Becerra, a bilingual attorney, leaves no stone unt

Plain Legal English

Legal documents can be a real bear to understand. They use so many special terms and serpentine phrases. In fact, there is a term to describe these terms: legalese. Don't get me wrong—just as any other profession, there are specific terms and phrases that must be expressed that way. After all, a plaintiff will always be a plaintiff and a defendant a defendant. But what about using words like therein, hereby, pursuant to, shall, witnesseth... and the list goes on. Surely there is a way to pare down and smooth out at least some of this language. Don't take my word for it—I learned about plain legal English from Bryan Garner, a longstanding attorney and scholar. From his LinkedIn profile: "Garn

Translating without breaking the law

Like everything in life, legal translation has its advantages and drawbacks. The pleasant part about it for me as a translator is that it is a fixed, almost ritualistic, language. In English and in Spanish, it is full of words like tort, interlocutory decree, subpoena, affidavit—and many more that we would not dream of using in everyday speech. Just as a judge wields a gavel and wears a robe, legal language, or legalese as it is known in unforgiving terms, is comprised of special words used within a set structure. In turn, this structure is adapted to different types of documents. The most common ones that come across my desk are: certificates (birth, death and divorce) contracts (also known

Differences between US and Mexican Law

The United States and Mexico may share a common border, commerce and a constant flow of people crossing that border, but the laws governing both nations differ greatly. The US system is based on common law, which comes from England, and the Mexican system is based on Roman or civil law, practiced in Spain. Before going over the differences, let's see some of the similarities: Federalist system. Both countries are divided into states Presidential system. Neither country has a prime minister The president is commander in chief The Supreme Court is used as a last resort Differences: In Mexico: Mexico is less litigious than the US. Parties are more likely to negotiate than sue There are no jurie

Coffee Time!

I've already covered some of the things that I like to eat here at the computer, and now I'd like to tell you what I drink (among other things). Coffee! Just the sound of the word makes me light up. Think about it. It's something you can drink at any time of day, with other people or alone, while working, at rest or at play; you can have one cup or several without any adverse effects (unless you count the jitters). And coffee comes in all sizes, shapes and flavors. You can have instant coffee, coffee brewed in a coffee maker, French press, buy it ground or grind the beans yourself. If you don't like making it yourself, you can always go to a place like Starbucks or a local café where you can

LawProse Lesson #292: A secret for good personal notes.

I have always been client-focused. Indeed, the very art of translating is based on centering the attention on others as it conveys the author's message—not mine. I apply the advice below not only because it shows that I care and that it is warmer phrasing; I apply it because it reflects how I truly think. Write “you”-centered notes, not “I”-centered notes. In any short personal letter, try to ensure that “you” and “your” predominate over “I,” “me,” and “mine.” (Think of the sarcasm of the Beatles’ song “I Me Mine”—about self-centeredness.) Put yourself in the position of the recipient and consider how much better the second of these makes you feel: “I can’t tell you how much I appreciated yo

Vacation in the North

This February—summer in the Southern Hemisphere—we took a family vacation to the North of Chile. We wanted a change of scenery from the South where we usually go. Here are some photos of the trip: Copiapó: mining town 500 miles (800 km) north of Santiago Mina San José: where the 33 Chilean miners were trapped and later miraculously rescued Note from a miner telling rescuers that all 33 of them were fine Parque Nacional Nevado Tres Cruces: Though mining is more prevalent than tourism in and around Copiapó, this hidden gem of a park afforded us sights like multicolored mountains, salt flats with flamingoes and indigenous goatherds. Caldera: fishing port one hour from Copiapó where we strolled

Legal False Friends Part 1

A cognate or false friend is a word that is written similarly to a word in another language. Both words have a similar or identical meaning. Take información and information; líder and leader; carro and car. Curiously enough, cognate comes from the Latin word cognatus, which also gave rise to the Spanish word cuñado: brother-in-law. Just as brothers-in-law need to be faithful to their relatives, cognates also must be faithful in meaning to each other. Many words in Spanish would seem to be a perfect cognate with a similar sounding word in English, but oftentimes, this is too good to be true. When false friends are used in everyday conversation between a foreigner and a native speaker, they c

Watergate: the mother of all gates

I don't know about other languages, but the "gate" in Watergate has become synonymous with scandals and embezzlement. The last one in the US that I remember was might recall the affair between ex-president Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Not to be left behind, Chile uses the suffix gate (pronounced gah-tay) for its political dirty laundry as well. The current gate: Paco Gate. Paco in Chile means cop, and the regular term is carabinero. Some members of the police force funneled at least USD 1,500,000 into private accounts. A real blow to the institution. If you happen to speak a language other than Spanish or English, then I have a question for you: Is the suffix gate used

LawProse Lesson #280: A short English-usage quiz

As a follow-up to our legal-usage quiz from last week, here are 10 questions of common English usage that can trip up even the most careful writers. Try your hand first and then check the answers at the end. Before we meet with the client, can you talk briefly with Margaret and [(a) I, (b) me]? Each of the defendants [(a) were, (b) was] required to perform 500 hours of community service. He has [(a) drunk, (b) drank] six cups of coffee in the last two hours. The signed contract was [(a) lying, (b) laying] on the corner of Sam’s desk the whole time. What are you calling in [(a) regards, (b) regard] to? The 4th floor of the library [(a) is comprised of, (b) comprises] several thousand books pu

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