Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

To be with your butt on the ground

To be with your butt on the ground
You didn’t read that wrong. The Italian expression “essere con il sedere a terra” literally means just that. It dates back a few hundred years to Florence and can be traced to a very specific Tuscan tradition. In the heart of the loggia del Mercato Nuovo – a market square popular with traders of silk and luxury goods – sits a circular stone in the ground. This stone became known as the Stone of Scandal, because if you were a failed trader, it’s where you would be publicly humiliated.

Florence was a wealthy city built on financial stability and honor. Traders took enormous pride in their solvency, with failure bringing great shame. To help keep these moral values, traders who could not honor their debts were declared ‘bankrupt’ and punished.  They were stripped ‘butt naked’ and made to lie on the Stone of Scandal, where the people they owed money to were invited to come and kick, beat or flog them in front of everyone. This not only caused public shame, but also ensured everyone who witnessed the punishment knew who not to give credit to.

Thus, to be ‘with your butt on the ground’ is to be in a precarious financial situation. (Though these days the only people ‘whooping your ass’ -as they say in the US- would be the banks.)