Hidden treasures

'Being flat-ass broke' in Florence

Figures of speech

'Being flat-ass broke' in Florence

The expression is not, so to speak, exactly elegant. On the other hand, the most popular ways of saying are also the most colorful. Changing them with softer synonyms unfortunately does not work: in short, butt, bum or, even worse, back side wouldn’t simply have the same effect. So please excuse us for the bad language which however is dictated by philological correctness! Don’t you believe it? So let me clarify this!

'Essere con il culo per terra' (being flat-ass broke) is an expression that has entered everyday language of the whole of Italy to say that things are not going well especially from a financial point of view. The expression however originates from Florence. We must go back to the times of the communal era and those of the Signoria when the wealth and power of the city derived from the circulation of money, a mechanism that was not to be hampered by possible insolvent debtors.

To prevent this, there was a specific punishment that took place under the Logge del Mercato Nuovo, known today as Piazza del Porcellino. Due to the presence in the daytime of the stalls of the Florentine artisans’ market you will not be able to notice a round marble stone, divided in black and white sections and resembling a cartwheel, which is instead noticeable at night. This had two purposes: it’s where the Florentine carroccio used to be positioned and also it acted as a stone of scandal and as such was called 'acculata stone'.

How did it work? That’s simple: the debtors who did not honor their obligations were stripped and their trousers pulled down, after which they were grabbed by the arms and legs and their naked buttocks were repeatedly hit on the stone. All this happened in public in a place where the local people surely knew the poor fellow was: whether he was a merchant, a banker, a craftsman or a merchant, people at the Mercato Nuovo were bound to know him. This is the explanation of the expression ‘essere con il culo per terra’ and also ‘essere con il sedere all’aria’.

If you want to see the acculata stone, book our 'Your own Florence tour' and add Piazza del Porcellino to your itinerary. But make sure you do not spend too much at the market on bags and hats or you'll end up... con il culo per terra!

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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