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Italian expression of the day: 'Braccine corte'

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
Italian expression of the day: 'Braccine corte'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Sometimes this is just the phrase to reach for.


If an Italian acquaintance tells you your arms are short, they’re not commenting on your physical appearance. And it's probably a sign that it's your turn to pay for the coffee. 

Avere le braccine corte or le braccia corte literally means “to have short arms”, and it’s used to say someone’s a bit tight with their money.

Like the English phrase “short arms and deep pockets”, it’s used to describe those people who are seemingly unable to reach their wallets when it’s time to pay for anything.

Va bene, braccine corte, le patatine le offro io.

Okay, tightwad, I’ll pay for the chips.

An alternative explanation you might hear is that the saying comes from an old fabric merchants’ custom of selling lengths of cloth a braccia, or “by the arm” – a unit of measurement used to give an estimate of the price. Those sellers who charged higher prices were said to have short 'arms'.

And, alternatively, if someone’s a real miser, you could use the adjective tirchio (pronounced TIR-kyoh).

Non pensavo che il mio futuro marito potesse essere così tirchio.

I didn’t know my future husband would be this tight with money

If you want to say the complete opposite, there’s an equally colourful phrase you could use: avere le mani bucate.

If you say someone has “holes in their hands”, it means money tends to slip through them all too easily. 

Ha le mani bucate e non riuscirà mai a risparmiare abbastanza da comprarsi una casa.

She has holes in her hands and will never manage to save up enough to buy a house.


This person is probably a spendaccione (‘spen-da-CHO-neh’) – a “big spender”, or someone who spends their money in a carefree or extravagant way.

Hai già finito i soldi dello stipendio? Sei proprio uno spendaccione!

Have you already spent your salary? You’re a real spendthrift!

For the seriously careless, the harsher description of scialacquatore (shall-akwa-TOH-reh’) might apply, which literally sounds like “water spiller” but means something like “waster” or “squanderer”.

Ha scialacquato tutto quello che aveva.

He squandered everything he had.

We just hope you don’t hear these words used to describe you.

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