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10 German words that come from Italian

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10 German words that come from Italian
The German and Italian flags are stuck in the lawn of a garden in Chemnitz. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Hendrik Schmidt

Italians have an expression that says that something sounds German if they don't understand it at all. Yet several German words actually have their roots in the southern European romance language.


The history of Germany and Italy has been closely intertwined over the centuries as, since the middle ages, Italian and German states have traded with each other, sharing both economic and cultural production.

The close ties have had a noticeable impact on the German language, too. In fact, Italian is among the languages with the greatest influence on German.


"Italianisms" - words borrowed from Italian -  rank 4th amongst foreign languages from which German has adopted words and an estimated 6.5 to 7 percent of German words come from Italian. Their influence is particularly strong in the areas of trade, art and lifestyle.

We’ve created a list of ten German words whose roots lie in Italian. Many of them, as you’ll discover, relate to the countries’ long trading history.


Loaned from the Italian word ambiente, meaning environment - das Ambiente is used to mean an atmosphere or feeling (similar to the English word 'ambience') in German. In the original Italian, however, the word is used to mean a physical location or setting.


The German word die Bank comes from the Italian banca, which originally described a long table used for exchanging money. Many historians consider medieval and Renaissance Italy as pivotal in the development of modern banking systems; particularly important were cities such as Venice, Genoa and Florence.

READ ALSO: 7 ways to talk about money like a German

Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, the banking system - and its terminology - spread into the Holy Roman Empire and Northern Europe.

The facade of the Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena in Siena, Italy. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Mattia Sedda


The adjective bankrott – meaning bankrupt in English, is derived from the Italian banca rotta, which translates as ‘broken table’.

During the Renaissance, when Italian money exchangers couldn’t fulfill their duties, their banche (tables) would be destroyed.


The German word die Bilanz comes from the Italian bilancio meaning 'balance'. In German, Bilanz generally refers to a financial type of balance or a result in terms of numbers.

Germans also use the French word Balance when referring to equilibrium or equality. It’s probably useful to know the difference between Bilanz and Balance before going to the Bank.



It’s thought that the German word das Fiasko derives from the Italian phrase far fiasco, which means to suffer a complete breakdown in performance.

There are various theories about how this phrase came about in Italian, as fiasco is the word for a type of bottle.

READ ALSO: Seven German words that originally come from India

One theory claims that, until the 18th century, as a form of public humiliation, people were condemned to wear a type of bottle made for sinners. Another theory suggests it refers to the disaster that can ensue when a bottle breaks.


Das Kapital has the same meaning as the English word 'capital', in its economic sense. It's also the title of one of the most famous and influential books in the German language - Karl Marx's critique of the 19th-century political economy. 

The word comes from the Venetian loanword cadeval, which itself comes from the Latin caput, meaning head.

A house from the board game Monopoly sits on top of a pile of coins. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke


Like its English equivalent corridor, the term derives from corridoio, which descends from correre, meaning to run. Presumably, because corridors are fun to run along.


Like Kapital, der Kredit equates to the English term 'credit' in its economic definition. The term is a derivation of the Italian credito, which originates from the Latin credere meaning to believe.

The link here is that you only loan money if you believe the other person will pay you back.


Like its English counterpart - 'opera' - die Oper stems from the Italian opera, meaning work or action. The Italian word derives from the Latin opus meaning work.

The first Italian-language opera was Jacopo Peri’s 1598 work Dafne, and the first German-language opera followed three decades later when Heinrich Schütz translated Peri’s work.

Evening view of the illuminated Semperoper on Theaterplatz in Dresden.

Evening view of the illuminated Semperoper on Theaterplatz in Dresden. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Robert Michael


The German term for fun has been in the language since the 17th century. It originates from the Italian spasso, meaning pleasure, or pastime. Spasso is a derivation of the vulgar Latin expassum, which comes from the verb expandere, meaning to spread out.

Expandere is also the root of the English term expand.


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