My thoughts on my legal dictionaries

Here’s a quick rundown of my legal dictionaries and the use I get out of them:

Bilingual Spanish-English legal dictionaries

Spanish-English Dictionary of Law and Business, 2nd edition (2012), Thomas L. West III

This dictionary is precise. You’re not often left with the doubt of whether the translation suggested matches the context of the word you’re looking for. Definitions are provided for many terms, and Spanish synonyms are also often given. In general, it appears to offer fewer equivalents than other dictionaries, but you get the feeling that you can be fairly sure of those offered. It is only Spanish to English.

Diccionario de Términos Jurídicos, A dictionary of Legal Terms, 10th edition (2007) Enrique Alcaraz Varó and Brian Hughes

The old standard (for me anyway). I tend to use it more as a starting point or to confirm something I’m nearly sure about. In this respect, I trust the suggestions it gives a little less than those I find in West III’s. This is mainly because quite often a lot of synonyms are listed without too much extra information. Although, having said that, you sometimes find very complete descriptions for terms, especially non-equivalent ones. It’s quite comprehensive.

Dahl’s Law Dictionary/Diccionario Jurídico Dahl, 3rd edition (1999)

The good thing about this bilingual dictionary is that it provides lots of definitions. And, given that particular penchant, you know that when there is only one equivalent offered, the chances are that it’s pretty reliable. I often end up thinking that it’s not as complete as it could be. Although, I do have an old edition. More recent versions are probably more comprehensive. It might not have turned out to be as fantastic as I expected when I bought it and wrote this post, but it is a useful dictionary and one that you can rely on for accuracy and for finding the term you’re looking for on most occasions.

Monolingual English legal dictionaries

Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th edition (2004), Bryan A. Garner (ed.)

If you only had one English legal dictionary, this would be it. Extremely comprehensive. If the term you’re looking for isn’t here, it’s either very obscure or maybe not a legal term. Sometimes, though, I find this comprehensiveness a hindrance, albeit a small one, as so many options can make it hard to know which is the best for a given context. Although it’s a US dictionary, it includes terms from a wide range of jurisdictions and sources.

Oxford Dictionary of Law, 7th edition (2009), Jonathan Law and Elizabeth A. Martin (eds.)

This is usually my first point of call for researching UK English legal terms. I only wish it were more comprehensive—I often feel lucky when I find the term I was looking for.

A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage, 2nd edition (1995)

A surprisingly useful dictionary for translators. At least I use it more than I thought I would. It has information on legal usage that you don’t usually find in standard dictionaries and is actually quite hard to find anywhere. It covers precisely the type of doubts that translators often have, like when and how to (and whether you even should) use things like “shall”, “said” (as in “said party”) and the “here- and there-words”. It’s very good for keeping your legalese in check (or for ramping it up when you feel the need) and also gives definitions for technical terms (e.g., “due process of law” and “defeasance”, to name a couple I just spotted in the “D” section). I’d recommend getting this one as it’s quite unique.

Louisiana Civil Law Dictionary, (2011), Gregory W. Rome and Stephan Kinsella.

This dictionary is essentially a list of English civil law terms, which can be useful for finding translations to Spanish legal terms. I imagine it’d also be useful for finding translations for other European civil law jurisdictions. You can probably find most of the terms appearing in this dictionary in Black’s, but they are treated in more detail here, and you can be sure from which jurisdiction they come from. It also quite usefully lists any partially or near-equivalent common law terms, which is helpful for deciding on the best option for a translation.

Dictionary of Legal Terms, 4th edition (2008), Steven H. Gifis

I hardly ever use this one. Probably because I find what I’m looking for in my other dictionaries first, as it is normally the last one I’d reach for. I don’t turn to it earlier because it’s quite small (again, I feel quite lucky if I find what I’m looking for) and US based.

Monolingual Spanish legal dictionaries

Diccionario Básico Jurídico, 7th edition (2009), Miguel Ángel del Arco Torres (ed.)

Very useful, although maybe not as comprehensive as it might be. A bigger one of these would be nice. I’m actually short on Spanish legal dictionaries (any suggestions would be welcome). Although, such is the nature of the Spanish legal system that the legislation is generally a very good and probably the best source for definitions, and many of the definitions found in legal dictionaries refer to or cite the legislation anyway. I also use the online legal dictionary Enciclopedia jurídica for researching Spanish terms, but again, it generally just refers to the legislation for the meaty and useful parts of the definitions.

Of course, I also use English online dictionaries for researching terms. There are lots available, although I don’t really have a favourite. I normally just search for the term in OneLook dictionary search and then go to the definitions listed for the legal dictionaries.

So, there you go. My thoughts on my legal dictionaries.

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Written by Rob Lunn

Rob Lunn is a freelance translator based in Spain. He translates from Spanish and Catalan into English and specialises in legal translation.

7 comments
  1. Rob, I would strongly suggest adding Javier Becerra’s “Diccionario de Terminología Jurídica Mexicana/Dictionary of Mexican Legal Terminology” to your list. Although the author is modest about the territorial coverage of this 1,476-page tome, it is actually an invaluable resource for translating the Spanish of any jurisdiction. A few additional useful monologingual Spanish dictionaries include:
    Vocabulario Jurídico Notarial (Carlos Nicolás Gattari)
    Diccionario del Latín Jurídico (Nelson Nicoliello)
    Diccionario de Sinónimos Jurídicos (Laura Casado)

  2. Oxford Dictionary of Law: ”This is usually my first point of call for researching UK English legal terms. I only wish it were more comprehensive..”

    My thoughts exactly, but I still love it.

  3. Rob, I think there is a good law dictionary that is missing in your list: the New Bouvier Law Dictionary, Desk Edtition (2 volumes).

    And, what about online legal dictionaries?.

    • For English, I normally use any of the legal dictionaries that come up in the Onelook search page. For Spanish, the statutes themselves (all online) and Enciclopedia jurídica is usually a good starting point. Various Spanish newspapers also have good legal/political/financial glossaries available online.

  4. Ever thought of using a monolingual Scots law dictionary, like Butterworths? Many readymade Roman civil law terms.

    • That’s a good suggestion. I do sometimes find my way to Scots law resources online when researching terms but hadn’t thought about getting a dictionary. Cheers!

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