I translate a lot of philosophical articles from Spanish to English. One of the quirks of Spanish academic writing is its use of sobriquets (i.e. nicknames) for philosophers and other thinkers, in order to avoid constantly repeating [Name-of-philosopher] over and over again.

In the case at hand, the article is about Hannah Arendt, and uses the phrase "la filósofa alemana" (the German philosopher) or simply "la alemana" (the German).

Any thoughts on whether this kind of "nicknaming" is appropriate in English academic writing?

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    Assuming you're referring to the same technique that occurs in English texts (academic or not), I don't think sobriquet/nickname are really the right words. A writer may often use such substitutions simply as a device for reminding the reader of certain attributes relevant to his subjects (the crippled scientist, the embittered writer, the highly-strung musician, etc.). Dec 15, 2012 at 22:15
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    There may be two questions here: is it appropriate in original academic writing in English, and is it appropriate in translations from the Spanish? To the second, I would be inclined to answer "yes", assuming that it doesn't make the article unclear in English (e.g., la filósofa alemana identifies her as female in Spanish but wouldn't in English translation). Dec 15, 2012 at 22:29
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    English has several of these, too—The Angelic Doctor, The Bard or Swan of Avon, right down to The Sage of Ayot—but as the last suggests, use of these sobriquets is largely jocular today. It's regarded as old-fashioned and a form of that “elegant variation” which Fowler decried as the hallmark of “second-rate writers” Dec 15, 2012 at 23:05
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    I am still not sure what is being asked here. The one example doesn't cut it for me. The comments actually muddle the waters further. I find it hard to believe that whenever a native speaker of Spanish hears "la alemana", he immediately thinks of Hannah Arendt. Certainly you first have to establish who the heck "the German" is you are talking about. In which case the very first comment of FumbleFingers applies and we are back to square one.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 15, 2012 at 23:08
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    @RegDwighт OP's concern isn't with all native speakers of Spanish but only readers of Spanish studies in philosophy; and what he describes was very common in English in the 19th century, when a writer on classics or philosophy or theology assumed his readers would know who was meant by an offhand reference to "the Stagirite" or "the Doctor Mirabilis" or "the Laughing Philosopher". Dec 16, 2012 at 0:06

1 Answer 1


Using a sobriquet instead of a name is unusual in formal writing, especially as the first instance of a reference. It is not used, for instance, as a pronoun would be used.

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