79 English Words That Are Actually Italian

The beauty of a language is subjective, but Italian is what many people would consider to be a beautiful language. It calls to mind the scenic countrysides of Tuscany, the ancient monuments of Rome and the forward fashions of Milan, among the many other aspects of culture that Italy has influenced throughout history. It’s no […]

The beauty of a language is subjective, but Italian is what many people would consider to be a beautiful language. It calls to mind the scenic countrysides of Tuscany, the ancient monuments of Rome and the forward fashions of Milan, among the many other aspects of culture that Italy has influenced throughout history. It’s no surprise, then, that the English language would borrow some vocabulary. There are many, many English words that are actually Italian.

There are a couple reasons for the similarities between Italian and English. Though English is descended from a different family — Italian is a Romance language, English a Germanic — English was heavily influenced by one of Italian’s ancestors: Latin. Also, Italy has had an outsized impact on many aspects of world culture. To give you a look at just how much Italian you know without speaking the language, we’ve collected some of the most common English words that are actually Italian, and split them up by category. Unless otherwise noted, this list is limited to words that traveled directly from Italian to English, rather than words that passed through another language (a lot of words went from Italian to French to English).

English Words That Are Actually Italian

Clothing And Style

  • jeans — this one is kind of cheating because technically, it was taken from the French jean fustian, but that phrase means “cloth of Genoa,” an Italian city from which a twilled cloth originated
  • stiletto — from the Italian word meaning “little stylus,” which itself comes from stilo (“dagger”). It refers to the tiny little heel on stilettos
  • umbrella — from the Italian ombrello

Food

  • al dente — “to the tooth,” describing the ideal texture of pasta
  • antipasto — literally “before food”
  • artichoke — from the Northern Italian articiocco
  • barista — this Italian word, ironically, was actually coined based on the English word “bar,” so it’s gone back and forth (and it’s a relatively new addition to the English language, appearing in 1992)
  • bologna — a meat named after a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy
  • broccoli — the plural of the Italian broccolo
  • bruschetta — taken from the Tuscan dialect, bruschetta is a type of bread, roasted and covered in olive oil in garlic. It’s derived from bruscare, meaning “to roast over coals”
  • cannoli — the plural of the Italian cannolo
  • gelato — from the Italian gelato meaning “chilled”
  • gnocchi — the plural of the Italian gnocco
  • gorgonzola — a cheese named for a town in Milan where it was made
  • lasagna — from lasagne, though a notable difference in usage is Italian speakers refer to the noodles as lasagne, whereas English speakers call the prepared dish lasagna
  • latte — from the Italian latte meaning “milk.” If you wanted to order what English speakers call a latte in Italy, you’d need to say caffè e latte
  • macaroni — an anglicization of the Italian maccherone
  • macchiato — from the Italian word meaning “stained”
  • mozzarella — from the Italian mozzare, meaning “to cut”
  • panini — the plural of the Italian word panino
  • pasta — from pasta
  • pepperoni — a type of meat with a name counterintuitively derived from peperone, meaning “bell pepper”
  • pesto — from the Italian pestare, meaning “to crush”
  • pizza — from pizza
  • ravioli — the plural of the Italian raviolo
  • spaghetti — the plural of the Italian spaghetto
  • trattoria — from the Italian trattoria meaning “restaurant,” often used by English speakers to refer to Italian restaurants specifically
  • tutti-frutti — this phrase sounds like it might be made up, but it actually comes from the Italian tutti frutti, meaning “all fruits”

 Geography

  • America — named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, who made one of the early popular maps of the “New World”
  • archipelago — from the Italian arcipelago, which technically just means “the Aegean Sea.” Its meaning has expanded to include any chain of islands
  • riviera — from the Italian riviera meaning “riverbank” or “shore”
  • volcano — from the Italian vulcano meaning “burning mountain”

Music

  • allegro — from the Italian allegro meaning “brisk and cheerful”
  • alto — from the Italian alto meaning “high,” this refers to either the upper range of men’s voices or the lower range of women’s voices
  • aria — from the Italian aria meaning “air”
  • ballerina — from the Italian ballerina meaning “dancing girl.” The word “ballet” is also Italian, but it comes to English by way of French, which is the language of ballet
  • bravo — from the Italian bravo meaning “brave”
  • crescendo — from the Italian crescendo meaning “increasing,” and contrasting with the Italian word for “decreasing,” which is diminuendo
  • diva — from the Italian diva meaning “goddess,” this word has become gradually more disparaging toward female performers
  • falsetto — this word comes from the diminutive version of the Italian falso, which means “false,” because a falsetto voice is considered artificial
  • finale — from the Italian finale meaning “final,” this word started as a music term in the late 18th century in English and has expanded to encompass any sort of ending
  • maestro — from the Italian maestro meaning “master”
  • opera — from the Italian opera meaning “work” or “composition,” it’s no surprise opera would come to us through Italian, though there are operas in many different languages
  • solo — from the Italian solo meaning “alone”
  • soprano — from another Italian word meaning “high” — sopra — this word refers to the highest register for female singers
  • virtuoso — related to the word “virtuous,” the word virtuoso in Italian refers to any kind of scholar or talented person

Other Arts

  • extravaganza — from the Italian extravaganza meaning “an extravagance”
  • fresco — from the Italian fresco meaning “cool” or “fresh”
  • graffiti — from the singular Italian graffito, which essentially means “a scribbling”
  • novella — from the Italian novella meaning “short story.” The word “novel” came to English through French, but novella was taken from Italian, which might be a little weird, but Italian and French have intermingled quite a bit
  • pietà — a depiction of the Christian scene in which the Virgin Mary (or, to stick with Italian, the Madonna) holds the dying body of Jesus. Its most famous depiction is the Renaissance sculpture done by Michelangelo. The word pietà comes from the Italian for “pity”
  • scenario — from the Italian scenario for “scenery”
  • stanza — from the Italian stanza meaning “verse of a poem”
  • studio — form the Italian studio meaning “a room for study,” though it’s become associated primarily with artists in English

Politics And War

  • arsenal — from the Italian arzenale
  • assassin — from the Italian assissini (or assassini), this word originally comes from a nickname in Arabic for a sect that existed in the Middle East during the time of the Crusades
  • fascism — from the Italian fascismo
  • manifesto — from the Italian manifesto meaning “a public declaration”
  • politico — from the Italian politico meaning “political,” this word is often used derogatorily in English (and it’s also the name of a popular media organization)
  • propaganda — this word comes from the Latin Congregation de Propaganda Fide, a committee of the Catholic Church that was meant to “propagate the faith” in the early 17th century. It passed through Italian (the Vatican is in Rome, after all) and expanded to encompass any kind of mission that spreads beliefs or ideologies
  • salvo — from the Italian salva

Science And Medicine

  • influenza — this Italian word dates back to the early 16th century, and has given us the more commonly used word “flu”
  • lava — from the Italian for “stream”
  • malaria — from the Italian mal’aria, which literally means “bad air”
  • neutrino — from the Italian neutrino, named by Italian physicist Enrico Fermi
  • quarantine — this word comes from the Italian phrase quaranta giorni (“forty days”), referring to the amount of time Italy would make ships wait offshore to make sure there was no illness or pestilence aboard during the time of the plague
  • tarantula — this spider was named after Taranto, a city in Southern Italy where apparently there were a lot of spiders

Miscellaneous

  • bandit — from the Italian bandito, meaning “outlaw”
  • bank — there is some dispute over whether English borrowed this word from Italian (banca) or French (banque), but French got their word from Italian so we’ll give the credit to Italy
  • casino — from the Italian casino, which originally was a diminutive of casa (“house”) but eventually was used to refer to “houses of gambling” in particular
  • confetti — plural of the Italian confetto, which literally means “sweetmeat,” coming from a tradition of throwing little candies during Italian celebrations
  • ditto — this word comes from a conjugation of dire, an old Italian verb for “to say” that isn’t in much use anymore
  • gonzo — a word that in Italian means “rude,” this word was introduced to the English language in 1970 by journalist Hunter S. Thompson, who claimed it was a “Boston word”
  • lottery — from the Italian lotteria, which was derived from lotto, which was the Italian word for “share”
  • magenta — the color magenta, created as a dye by a French chemist, was originally called fuchsine, but was renamed to honor the victory of the Italians and French beating the Austrians in the Battle of Magenta, which is a pretty weird way for a color to get a name
  • paparazzi — plural of the Italian paparazzo, which itself is taken from a character who is a photographer in La Dolce Vita, a Federico Fellini film from 1959
  • tarot — technically the word tarot comes to English through French, but the name for the pack of cards often used today in divination comes from an Old Italian game deck called tarocchi
  • vendetta — from the Italian for “a feud,” the word has more dramatic connotations in English than it does in Italian

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Source: Babbel