Terms Commonly Confused in Legal Documents and Translations (Part I)
English can be a very tricky language even if you’re born and/or raised in an English-speaking country. When a lawyer or a translator is writing a legal document, the last thing they want is to leave room for confusion, vagueness, or ambiguity, let alone misunderstandings due to wrongly spelled terms.
Here are just a few of the many examples we commonly find in the legal documents we receive from our clients for translation.
1. ECONOMIC & ECONOMICAL
These two terms are so frequently confused that they had to be first on my list.
Economic means relating to the field of economics and the economy. Examples of the uses of economic include: economic report, economic crisis, economic theory, economic interpretation. This is the term most commonly used: economic. What I mean is that people often use “economic” when what they actually mean is “economical.”
Economical means, according to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary, marked by careful, efficient, and prudent use of resources (an economical shopper) or operating with little waste or at a saving (an economical car). Colloquially speaking, economical means cheap.
To make things worse, the adverb for both words is the same: economically.
In Spanish, the same term – económico – may be used in all cases.
2. BORN & BORNE
I’m pretty sure we all know what born means. When someone is born, it starts its life. It is not only used with reference to people, but also organizations, ideas etc. may be said to be born, i.e. they begin to exist.
Whereas, borne – part participle of the verb to bear – is frequently used in legal documents especially concerning costs, e.g. All shipping costs shall be borne by the customer. This means costs will be paid by the customer.
3. ENSURE, ASSURE, & INSURE
All of these verbs have the general meaning «to make sure.» They sound very similar but, as a matter of fact, they are not interchangeable; their usage is dependent on context. “Assure” is something you do to a person, a group of people, or an animal to remove doubt or anxiety. For example, Seller shall assure Buyer that shipments will be made as herein agreed. “Assure” can only be used with things that are alive. Only things that are alive can feel doubt or anxiety, so only they can be assured of something.
“Ensure” is something you do to guarantee an event or condition. For example, Seller shall ensure that it will have enough supplies and products to fill Buyer’s orders. To ensure means to guarantee something.
“Insure” can be done to a person, place, or thing, but it has to do with limiting financial liability, most commonly by obtaining an insurance policy. For example, “The professionals shall be insured against loss.”
4. COUNCIL & COUNSEL
The problem with these two terms is that they sound very similar, but their meanings are, indeed, very different. According to the Merriam Webster’s dictionary, a “council” is a group of people who are chosen to make rules, laws, or decisions about something, or a group of people who provide advice or guidance on something. For example, The city council is considering a ban on smoking in restaurants.
“Counsel” means either advice given to someone, or a lawyer who represents a person or group in a court of law. For example, You were unwise to reject your lawyer’s counsel. (= advice) / She’s serving as counsel for the defendant.
One more difference is that, whereas council is only used as a noun, counsel may be used both as a noun and as a verb, e.g. The attorney counseled his client on the matter brought to his attention.
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