Costas, costes y costos

The fact that there are three words for "cost" in Spanish can be confusing. The general word meaning the price of something (what it costs) is "coste" in Spain and "costo" in Latin America. Thus, for example, the "cost of living" is "el coste de la vida" in Spain and "el costo de la vida" in Latin America. The word "costa" is used on both sides of the Atlantic to refer specifically to court costs. Note that the Diccionario de la Real Academia gives "gastos relacionados con un proceso" as one of the meanings of "costa."

In legal documents from Peru and Argentina (among other countries), you may come across the puzzling expression "costas y costos." Volume I of the Diccionario Jurídico Abeledo-Perrot by Garrone explains:

"Antiguamente los gastos judiciales se dividían en costas o costos, según se tratase de gastos fijos (papel sellado, remuneración de los actuarios, Etc.) o a fijarse (honorarios de los profesionales intervinientes)." Thus, the pair "costas y costos" means "court costs and attorney's fees." Garrone continues: "Pero tal distinción no perduró en la práctica ni fue establecida en las leyes. La palabra "costas" es suficientemente comprensiva de todas las erogaciones que demanda la tramitación de un proceso, honorarios inclusive."

Nevertheless, some judges and lawyers continue to use the phrase, so translators should be aware of it. The other thing to remember is that the word "costa" can also mean "coast" or "coastline" (a synonym of "el litoral"), in which case it obviously has nothing to do with "costs."

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