When I came to Colombia in 2009, I arrived feeling that I had a pretty solid grip on Spanish. Oh sure, there were words I didn’t know, but I was certain that all my years of learning Spanish in school would be enough to confer me high intermediate or even low advanced status. After all, I’d always been the best student in my classes, my accent was decent (as if that has anything to do with anything!), and, most importantly, I considered my Spanish to be impressive, and so did other learners. Wasn’t that enough? How sadly wrong I was.
The fact was I was seriously deficient in actual interaction with native speakers. This meant two things: 1) I could barely speak in a way that came even close to sounding natural, and 2) My ability to understand native speakers was even more abysmal. My inflated self-confidence took a nosedive. I had no choice but to admit my mediocrity and basically start over from scratch. It ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made, though. I’m the first to admit that I still have a long ways to go; I’m also not hesitant to dip into the mortification of those early days if it can be of use to other learners–not that I would want to deprive you of your own funny stories and necessary blows to the ego!
Today’s word marked one of those crushing moments when reality began to sink in. One of those words that hammered in the depressing verdict that maybe I wasn’t such a Spanish hotshot after all. Maybe my Spanish sucked. Now what?
It was my first weekend in Colombia, and I was at the house of some relatives of the family I was living with. Both physically and mentally exhausted, I had been resting on the couch in a room with the TV news blathering on about I-had-no-idea-what. An uncle, Orlando, walked in, jovial as ever, and said something to the effect of, ¿Qué más, mi niña? ¿Juiciosa?
And I said, WHAT?
WHAT? The meaningless syllables mercilessly ricocheted on my brain only to indicate that I had nothing. We went back and forth like that several times, engaged in a pitiful volley as I awaited enlightenment that never came. Later that night, I turned to the dictionary for guidance. Now, even though Orlando had said juiciosa to me probably seven or eight times, saying it slowly and even yelling it, my listening comprehension in those days was so bad that I still didn’t even hear the word right. I thought he had said something like quisquillosa. The dictionary told me that meant fussy or picky. What in the world? Surely that wasn’t what he had said to me.
It wasn’t. With time plus many other occasions to hear the word again, I came to realize that he had been saying juiciosa, NOT asking me if I was picky. The dictionary will tell you that juicioso means judicious. In Colombia, however, juicioso is used to mean hardworking, well-behaved, and responsible. As you can imagine, it’s often used to tell children to be good (Niños, sean juiciosos or Ojo, pues, mucho juicio) or to describe someone’s work ethic. It’s also frequently used in a less straightforward way to ask if someone’s been working hard recently or been a “good boy” or “good girl,” i.e., staying out of trouble.
¿Qué más? ¿Cómo te ha ido? ¿Juiciosa?– Ah, pues, bien, gracias a Dios. Sí, claro, muy juiciosa en mis estudios.
How’s it going? What have you been up to lately? Staying out of trouble?–Oh, you know. Pretty good. Busy with school stuff.
¿Así que al fin no fuiste a la fiesta?– No, me quedé en casa cuidando a mis hermanos.– Ah, ¡tan juicioso!
So, you didn’t end up going to the party?–No, I stayed home to babysit my little brothers.–Well, aren’t you responsible!
I consider it a sort of muletilla, one of those filler words that doesn’t mean very much at all. Are your friends really interested in checking to make sure you haven’t been up to mischief? Would anyone ever confess to not being juicioso lately? The asker is looking for a yes, so make sure you give them one, simultaneously confirming for them why they think so highly of you. A win-win.
Ojo: As previously noted, although it would make the word more fun, juicioso has nothing to do with juicy bears, disappointingly.
__________________________________________________ Non-natives, what’s your experience with this word? Had you heard it before? How have you heard it used? Where? If you’re a native Spanish speaker, anything to correct, clarify, comment on or concur with?