Hidden treasures

Non avere il becco di un quattrino

Figures of speech

Non avere il becco di un quattrino

Do you know what the expression non avere il becco di un quattrino’ means? I am worried many of you these days have that clear in their mind. In fact, it means you are penniless, or in other words, you are in a bad state as far as money is concerned. There are various hypotheses on the origin of this very popular Tuscan way of saying, some interesting others decidedly more entertaining. But let's take one thing at a time!

Let's start with the money. Here things are pretty simple. Between the 13th and the 18th centuries in Tuscany a coin was used that was worth four denari, that is four cents. Hence the name quattrino. It was a copper coin, of little value.

Matters get a bit more complicated with 'becco'. Where does this word come from? One theory is that it refers to the 'rostrum' (i.e. the spur) of the Roman ships that was depicted on the coin and resembled a beak. In this sense, non avere il becco di un quattrino means not having even a piece of a coin, which in itself was already worth very little.

Well, at this point you are ready for the usual colorful note. The second hypothesis on the meaning of 'becco', in fact, is borrowed from a widespread, albeit explicit and undoubtedly scarcely elegant, way of saying. Becco, for us in Tuscany, is a husband whose wife has cheated on him. And what does that have to do with money? According to an old-fashioned scale of values no man is as useless as the one who is content with a cheating wife. So 'becco' in this case heightens even more the meaning of the expression: having nothing, not even a coin which is worth very little, just like a betrayed husband.

There is no escaping it, the pungent Tuscan dialect is really beautiful, don’t you think? Above all, these colorful and sharp expressions make it truly unique and interesting. Of course, you can hear it on television in some of Pieraccioni’s movies or when listening to Panariello... but hearing it being spoken in Florence or why not even in Siena is something altogether different. Why not spend a few days in the city of the Palio and try and understand Siena’s dialect? If you also book one of our tours in Siena you will discover many hidden corners of this beautiful and timeless city.

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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