Italian Idiom: A braccio (off-the-cuff / improvised)

Have you ever found yourself in a spot where you had to improvise a speech or speak off-the-cuff? If that sounds familiar, you might want to explore the expression a braccio, which directly translates to “by (the manner of) the arm” but is equivalent to the English expressions “off-the-cuff,” “ad-lib” and “improvised.”

a braccio

The term originates from the braccio (arm), an ancient unit of measurement approximately 60 cm long. The imprecise nature of this unit led to measurements lacking precision, giving rise to the dual meaning of braccio as something imprecise or approximate. For example, un discorso a braccio is an improvised speech.

Two verbs frequently associated with a braccio are andare (to go) and parlare (to talk/speak). The latter is specifically used for talking, while the former covers a broader range of actions. Some possible translations include:

  • to wing it
  • to ad-lib
  • to talk off-the-cuff
  • to play it by ear

This expression isn’t the same as a braccia, which means “in one’s arms” or “with one’s own hands.”

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