Italian word for the week: Braccine corte

Braccine corte‘ means ‘short arms’, but if someone tells you “Avere le braccine corte“, they’re not referring to the length of your appendages…

Man measuring his arm

The Italian phrase “Avere le braccine corte” is an interesting idiom that literally translates to “to have short arms.” However, if someone tells you this, they are not commenting on the length of your actual arms. Instead, it is an expression used to describe someone who is being stingy or unwilling to spend money.

There are two possible explanations for the origin of this idiom:

The first interpretation suggests that “having short arms” means being so stingy that you are unable to reach for your wallet. It implies that the person is unwilling to extend their arms, both figuratively and literally, to pay for something or be generous with their money.

Example sentence:

  • Non vuoi mai pagare per gli altri, hai sempre le braccine corte!
    You never want to pay for others, you always have short arms!

Another possible origin of this idiom dates back to a time when cloth was commonly sold in units of an arm’s length. It is said that some miserly merchants would deliberately “shorten” their arms when measuring the cloth in order to deceive customers and charge them more money.

Example sentence:

  • Quei commercianti erano noti per avere le braccine corte quando vendevano i tessuti.
    Those merchants were known to have short arms when selling fabrics.

The phrase “Avere le braccine corte” is a colourful way of expressing someone’s stinginess. It highlights the unwillingness to spend money or be generous, drawing on the imagery of short arms either unable to reach for the wallet or being used deceitfully to shortchange others.

While this idiom can be a funny way to remind a friend to foot the bill once in a while, it also serves as a reminder to be generous and open-handed, valuing the importance of sharing and kindness over personal gain.

Example sentence:

  • Dovremmo imparare a essere più generosi invece di avere sempre le braccine corte.
    We should learn to be more generous instead of always having short arms.

Idiomatic expressions like “Avere le braccine corte” are used frequently in Italian conversation to convey certain attitudes or behaviours. Such phrases add a touch of character to the language, making conversations incredibly colourful and expressive.

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