Then people are implying that you’re stingy.
Maybe “le braccia corte” is being used in jest when it’s your turn to buy the next round of drinks or pick up the tab. Maybe it’s an indictment of a steady stream of miserly behavior instead of a one-off.
So, why does this Italian idiom, meaning having “short arms” say that you’re cheap? Well, there are two prevailing explanations for this equivalent of calling someone “tight-fisted.” Read on!
Your arms are so short they can’t reach for your wallet or purse.
Having “le braccia corte,” or short arms is a colorful way of saying that you are so stingy that you’re physically unable to reach for your coins and cash. I do love the English metaphor of being tight-fisted, implying that you have practically cut off the circulation to your hands holding so tightly to your money. But I think Italians go one step further by implying that a person is so stingy that their arms have shortened!
Then there’s the theory about measuring fabric.
This refers to when cloth merchants measured and sold fabric by units of an arm’s length. Supposedly, some merchants would “shorten” their arms when measuring out the cloth in order to squeeze out more money from their customers. So having “le braccia corte” fattened their bottom lines. Wily devils, wouldn’t you say?
Having le braccia corte is just one of many Italian colloquial expressions. And if you’re serious about immersing yourself in the Italian culture I highly recommend committing ones like this one to memory. Otherwise, you might be sitting blank-faced when these expressions are used. If you want to get started with a few oft-used Italian idioms, I encourage you to read my blog post Know Your Italian Idioms.