The position must be filled

Enlace para español/Click here for Spanish

Dear reader,

We’re about to see two political conventions whose result may not be foreordained. Many find this strange, even unthinkable. But it’s how conventions used to be—before they became blockbuster TV specials with lots of flash but no real drama.

A bilingual look at some words of the season:

Roman white toga

“Candidate” comes from the Roman custom of those seeking public office wearing a white (candidum) toga, symbolizing purity. It’s unclear if this would make apt electoral attire today.

Convention, from Latin convenire “to come together.” Spanish convención has been widely used for such gatherings for some time; in the early/mid 20th century it surpassed an older term still not entirely obsolete: asamblea (assembly).

“Convention” can also mean a broadly accepted custom, as when broadcasters say a show starts at “9PM/8PM Central” it’s understood 9PM means Eastern time. Spanish “Convengamos en que…” (Let’s agree that) uses this sense of “convention.”

Span. convenio, from the same Latin root, means “agreement” as in an international treaty or a legal settlement.

Candidate and  candidato go back to a Roman custom: aspirants to public office wore white togas. Lat. candidum meant “white, pure.” Engl. “candid” took French’s sense “frank, sincere.” Span. cándido takes up a different sense: “naïve.” Neither “candid” nor cándido generally spring to mind when thinking of politicians.

Nominee. This sense is old in English, from at least the 1680s. The Spanish equivalent: candidato, simply, or titular (el titular del partido Republicano, the Republican Party nominee). A quaint term is “standard-bearer” (“standard” a term for “flag”); Span. has an equivalent, abanderado.

Running. Candidates “run” for office (or “stand” in the UK). In Spanish se postulan or se presentan, which are both also ways of saying “to apply”—as for a job. The electorate is a strange employer, though, as it is forced to hire someone even if not satisfied with the applicants.

¡Buenas palabras! Good words!


Copyright ©2016 by Pablo J. Davis.  All Rights Reserved. An earlier version of this essay originally appeared in the Jul. 17-23, 2016 edition of La Prensa Latina (Memphis, Tennessee) as number 189 in the weekly bilingual column, “Misterios y Engimas de la Traducción/Mysteries and Enigmas of Translation”.  Pablo Julián Davis, PhD, CT is an ATA (American Translators Association) Certified Translator, Engl>Span; a Tennessee State Courts Certified Interpreter, Engl<>Span; and an innovative trainer in the fields of translation, interpreting, and intercultural competency, with over 25 years experience. He holds the doctorate in Latin American History from The Johns Hopkins University, and is a Juris Doctor Candidate at the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, University of Memphis (May 2017).

About Pablo Julián Davis
Pablo J. Davis is an attorney, historian, and translator. Many of the posts or essays here began as entries in the newspaper column “MIsterios y Enigmas de la Traducción/Mysteries & Enigmas of Translation” (published weekly in La Prensa Latina,, since July 2012).

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