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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Braccine corte’

Sometimes this is just the phrase to reach for.

Italian expression of the day: 'Braccine corte'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

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

READ ALSO: Popes, chickens and reheated soup: 15 everyday Italian idioms you need to know

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 il suo

– he squandered everything he had

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

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

Member comments

  1. Thanks for all these wonderful words you give us. I am making a nice little file of them so I can learn them.

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For members

ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

When your best Italian mate is giving you an earful for being a couple of minutes late, tell him to quit the ‘philippic’.

Italian expression of the day: ‘Fare una filippica’

As far as idioms go, fare una filippica is one of the most popular ones used in Italian television and print media. Presenters and journalists use it every day as a way to give colour and panache to their reports.

But what is a filippica (literally, ‘philippic’ in English) and, above all, what does it mean to make one?

In Italian, the word filippica is generally used to describe a very impassioned invective: a tongue-lashing, if you will, aimed at a political adversary or any other opponent.

So fare una filippica means having a go at someone, and in a rather ferocious and hostile way.

Let’s have a look at some examples:

Il capo dell’opposizione ha fatto una filippica contro l’immobilità del governo nei confronti delle famiglie a basso reddito.

The head of the opposition harshly criticised the government’s inertia towards low-income families.

Or:

L’allenatore ha fatto una filippica contro i tifosi della squadra ospite per il loro comportamento sugli spalti.

The coach condemned the away side’s fans for their behaviour on the stands.

As you can see, on most occasions, the expression is followed by contro (‘against’) plus the person or people the invective is directed at. 

As previously mentioned, the expression is widely used in broadcast and print media. However, it is also frequently used in colloquial Italian as a way to mock someone who is being overly dramatic or getting unreasonably upset about trivial matters.

For instance:

Sei sempre in ritardo. Sei insopportabile.
Sono solo due minuti. Non farmi una filippica…

You’re always late. You’re insufferable.
It’s just a couple of minutes. Don’t you dare have a go at me…

So, now that you have a basic grasp of how (and when) to use the idiom, you may also be interested in knowing where it comes from. 

Like most Italian idioms, fare una filippica originated in the classical age.

Notably the expression dates back to 351 BC, when the independence of Athens, the richest and most technologically advanced city-state in ancient Greece, was being threatened by the expansionist designs of Philip II, king of Macedon.

Being conscious of the risks Macedon posed to his city’s autonomy, Athenian intellectual and statesman Demosthenes famously gave a number of fervid political speeches aimed at rallying his fellow citizens against Philip II and calling for a mobilisation of Athens’ military forces.

Such orations, whose eloquence and rhetoric are admired to this very day, were known as ‘philippics’ (‘filippiche’ in Italian), hence the very peculiar expression which, through the centuries, has made it all the way into modern Italian.

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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