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I need an advice on translation from Spanish to English: is Spanish words
"tercio" (pl. "tercios"), which means "third", being translated into English
when applying to the 16th-century military unit, or is to be left untranslated?
The reason is, I found a modern extremist group from Peru, named "Tercios
Nacional Socialistas de Nueva Castilla", whose flag I want to report, but am not
sure how to translate their name the best. For more info on historical
"tercios", see here. Thanks
in advance for the answer.
Tomislav Todorović, 16 April 2013
In WikiPedia You can always switch to another language the same article, by
left-clicking on the link on the left hand bar, where it shows the languages in
which the article is available (i.e.
My approach is that since it is an indigenous name with no equivalent in the English language, then I suggest you send it as Tercios.
The same can be applied for example to other police/military units/formations such as Gendarmerie, Carabinieri, etc., words that sometimes have a translation, but most of the times they don't.
Now, if you are asking about the meaning and the origin of the word Tercios, you can date back to an Ordenanza (Law) of 1497, where the Infantry formations where split into three thirds (hence the word tercio, or "third", because in Spanish one always refers to un tercio, dos tercios, tres tercios, speaking of fractions, or one third, two thirds and three thirds, but no mention of the name one, two and three, because it is not a mathematical term, but rather a military formation, so it's onyl referred to as Tercio, or third):
â€œRepartiÃ©ronse los peones (la infanterÃa) en tres partes. El uno, tercio con lanzas, como los alemanes las traÃan, que llamaron picas; y el otro tenÃa nombre de escudados (gente de espadas); y el otro, de ballesteros y espingarderosâ€? (Translation: Regrouping the pawns, or infantrymen, into three parts.One, the tercio with spears, or spearmen (also pikemen as called by the Germans), another one with escudados (squires) and the other one with ballesteros (crossbowmen) and espingarderos (a term used for the springald, but the name of the person belonging to the unit changed regarding the weapon used, like musketeers if they used muskets and arquebusiers if they used an arquebus).
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tercios and http://blogs.ua.es/lostercios/2010/12/25/199/
Now regarding the translation of this modern extremist group, it would be in modern-day Spanish the National Socialist Infantrymen of New Castille, but is not as "catchy" as saying Tercios
Esteban Rivera, 16 April 2013
It would usually be left untranslated because it doesn't refer to the unit
per se but to the way it functioned. As Wikipedia mention, it was sometimes
referred to as a Spanish square, but I don't know whether that term survived in
Well, if they mean to say that they e.g. fight more effectively than their contemporaries, then "tercios" would be relevant.
I'm guessing, though, that from an army structure point of view a tercio would be a regiment, being part of a brigade. So if they're merely saying they are fighting for their something, then I guess they would be "regiments", or maybe "brigade".
(Those of you well-versed in army structure, please improve beyond my guesswork.)
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 16 April 2013
Considering that the original tercios were employed at the time of Spanish
conquest of the Indies, they probably thought that the word goes along well with
the name of New Castile. That might speak in favor of keeping the original word.
Wikipedia says that the tercios were eventually replaced by the regiments, so they can be considered their predecessors (or precursors, whichever word applies better here), but not equivalents (in my opinion, at least). Considering that, maybe it would be the best not to translate the word, just like the phalange/phalanx, legion and other ancient units are also always mentioned by their original names - and are used by the extremist groups as well.
Tomislav Todorović, 16 April 2013
The word "tercio" refers to a 16th Century Spanish military formation (as you
say), and in my experience is invariably used without any attempt at translation
when describing any such in a historical context, however, this is a modern
extremist group so that could be said not to apply? My own feeling is one should
not attempt to translate their title in this context either, because any attempt
to do is unlikely to be either accurate or understandable (or perhaps both),
however, should you decide to do so then the English word "battalion" could be
useful, since the number of soldiers to which it refers can vary according to
usage - the "National Socialist Battalions of New Castile" perhaps?
Christopher Southworth, 16 April 2013
I agree with everyone else who has recommended using the untranslated term,
but just want to add that "tercio" was not an entirely obsolete term. During
part of the 20th century the Spanish Foreign Legion was officially known as the
Tercio de Extranjeros.
Ned Smith, 16 April 2013
I guess it helps to live in a country that was at war with Spain around that
time. I caught that by suggesting "brigade". Several of the "brigades" in the
Spanish Civil War were in reality also only parts of actual international
brigades. There's another Spanish example of fighting for something. "Legion" is
not the Latin word, nor are phalange and phalanx both the ancient Greek. Phalanx
would be the better example here, as it refers to a specific formation and its
movement. (This is what you'd see of the tercios to, I guess, the one in front
and two coming up on either side behind it, so "phalanx" might not be such a bad
But where phalanx is associated with that formation only, regardless of what army would use it, I'd say the tercio formation is much closer linked to Spain. Leaving it untranslated would say it was a Spanish or Spain orientated organisation. I'm leaning more and more towards "brigade" or "brigades".
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 17 April 2013
"Phalanx" is Greek, but "phalange" is to "phalanx" as is "legion" to "legio" (modern Greek word might be something alike, but spelling... well, it's a completely different script, no use to discuss here).
Well, maybe still best to keep "tercios" - with "New Castile", this makes a clear reference to "hispanidad", but in a Nazi way, not like the Phalangists' use of the term - i.e. more racial than cultural.
Tomislav Todorović, 17 April 2013
One thing I didn't know until following up right now is that "tercio" is
still in official use even today. The Spanish Legion, successor to the Spanish
Foreign Legion, is composed of four Tercios (four Thirds!). And to make this a
tiny bit flag-related, Banderas (Flags)are subunits of the Tercios. See
Also, the wikipedia article on the Spanish Army describes tercio as a unit intermediate between a regiment and a brigade, reinforcing the earlier suggestions about not translating it as either one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Army
Ned Smith, 17 April 2013
OK. As I tried to say in my earlier reply: If it is simply intended as
"defenders" or "fighters", then find a translation. If it has a specific
meaning, then keep it. So if you feel it comes with specific overtones, keep it.
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg,17 April 2013
I request that you excuse me, for my down nivel of english.I think that
really, the ranking of military unites of Legion, is following:1.- Legion,
similar Brigade (Legion Brigade, or better named Alfonso XIII Brigada2.- Tercio,
similar Regiment. actually (theere is 4, named: Gran Capitan, 1º ; Duque de
Alba, 2º; Juan de Austria, 3º; Alejandro Farnesio, 4º3.- Bandera (Flag) similar
Batallón4.- Company=CompanyRegards, Antonio Nieto.From Sevilla, SPAIN.
Antonio Nieto Carnicer, 20 April 2013
Just back and read your question. I just no that the "tercio" (full name:
tercio extranjero) is the Spanish foreign legion, which still exists, probably
having bases in Ceuta and Mellilla, and there is also a big base of the tercio
near Almeria. In the moment I unfortunately don't have sufficient time. But it
may be that there are some informations within the book of Calvo Perez and
Gravalos Gonzalez. I promose to look later, but it can take more than a month.
Furthermore I see, Esteban has just given an answer.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 25 April 2013
Not only Esteban (plus a number of others) gave the answer, but I used it and
sent the completed contribution in question as well. Still I am thankful for
your willingness to help.
Tomislav Todorović, 25 April 2013