Italian Idiom: Avere le braccine corte (to be stingy)

Italians have many ways to refer to someone who doesn’t like to spend money. You might be called spilorcio, taccagno, tirato, or tirchio. But if they want to sound more poetic, they’ll use the idiomatic expression avere le braccine corte.

Italian idiom "avere le braccine corte"

Avere le braccine corte literally translates to “having short arms,” and contrary to what you might think, it has nothing to do with being unable to reach one’s wallet due to short appendages!

According to Firenze Today, the expression harks back to a time in Florence when fabric sellers measured cloth using the unit a braccia (by the arm). To make a profit, some sellers would use the arms of young apprentices, which were shorter than their own. This practice often caused disputes between buyers and sellers, leading to the establishment of a universal measurement known as the braccio fiorentino, which was precisely 58.32 centimetres long.

pink ceramic piggy bank and woman with American paper money

There are actually two variations on this expression: avere il braccino corto (“to have a short arm”) and avere le braccia corte (“to have short arms” but using the standard bracciaarms– rather than the diminutive braccinelittle arms).

A lesser used idiomatic alternative is essere di manica stretta (literally “to have a tight sleeve”) or stretto di maniche (“tight-sleeved”). It is the opposite of the much more common expression essere di manica larga (“to have wide sleeves”), which is used to describe someone who is generous and indulgent.

Ethics statement: Below you will find affiliate links. If you buy something after clicking the link, we will receive a small commission. To know more about our ethics, you can visit our full disclosure page. Thank you!

Lingopie (affiliate link) is the Netflix of language learning application that uses real TV shows and movies to help you learn a new language. You can choose a show to watch based on your fluency level, and use the interactive subtitles to get instant translations to help you learn quickly.

Are you interested in improving your Italian in a fun and stress-free manner? Then we highly recommend Serena Capilli's short stories in Italian (affiliate link), designed for beginners, advanced beginners, and lower intermediate learners (A1-B1 CEFR). These stories have been optimised for English speakers in search of a fun, laid-back learning experience! Read our full review here.

Leave a Comment