I know that this phrase describes someone who has not got any skills and is poor but I would like to understand when it is used for example: just to say one is penniless, poor or in a more particular way. I am asking this because I want to find the exact English equivalent.

1 Answer 1


Let me quote from Carlo Lapucci, Dizionario dei modi di dire della lingua italiana, Garzanti-Vallardi, 1979, p. 13:

Non avere né arte né parte
Non conoscere un mestiere, non avere nessuna abilità e non avere né beni né appoggi.
Il detto fa probabilmente riferimento alle arti (maggiori e minori), e alle corporazioni medievali delle quali uno faceva parte secondo l'attività che svolgeva. Le corporazioni entravano poi nelle divisioni politiche (parti). C'è anche il detto: “Chi ha arte ha parte”.

That is, «Not knowing a trade, having no skills and having neither goods nor supporters. The saying probably refers to the Arti (major and minor ones) [1], and to the medieval guilds of which one was part according to the activity he carried out. The guilds, in turn, were involved in the political divisions (parti [2]). There is also the saying: Chi ha arte ha parte

To add a personal comment as an Italian mother tongue, more than a simply penniless person, I'd say it of someone who is a good-for-nothing, who hasn't a say in anything, nor seems to be able, or willing to.

[1] See for instance the Arti di Firenze.

[2] Compare this with “(political) parties”.

  • 1
    Also, "quel quadro non ha né arte né parte", i.e. "it's particularly bland". Commented May 16, 2018 at 21:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.