From pizza to politics, Italy and Germany have had a profound influence on each other. Until each country’s national unification in the 19th century, both nations were comprised of numerous independent states.
Since the middle ages, Italian and German states have traded with each other, sharing both economic and cultural production. 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.
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Loaned from the Italian ambiente, meaning environment. Similar to English, the German term pertains more to an atmosphere, whereas the Italian term denotes a location or setting.
From 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. Throughout the 15th and 16th centuries, the banking system – and its terminology – spread into the Holy Roman Empire and Northern Europe.
The entrance to the UniCredit bank in Rome. Photo: DPA
Corresponding to the English term bankrupt, the word for 'bankrupt' 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.
Meaning balance in the economic sense of the word, Bilanz comes from the Italian bilancio which means, surprisingly, balance. Germans also use the French word Balance when referring to an equilibrium or equality. It’s probably useful to know the difference between Bilanz and Balance before going to the Bank.
Fiasko has an unusual etymology. The word itself originates from the Italian word fiasco, which denotes a type of bottle. It probably derives from the Italian phrase far fiasco, which means to suffer a complete breakdown in performance. There are various theories about how the word for bottle came to describe a total disaster or humiliation. 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 idea of a bottle breaking.
Kapital has the same meaning as the English capital, in its economic sense. It comes from the Venetian loanword cadeval, which itself comes from the Latin caput, meaning head.
Economics: Spaß or Fiasko? Photo: DPA
Like its English equivalent corridor, the term derives from corridoio, which descends from correre, meaning to run.
Like Kapital, 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 is that you only loan money if you believe the other person will pay you back.
Like its English counterpart, opera, Oper, stems from the Italian opera, meaning work or action. The word comes 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.
The Staatsoper in Berlin, one of the city's three official opera houses. Photo: DPA
The German term for fun has been in the language since the 17th century. It originates from the Italian spasso, which denotes 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. This linguistic fun should be expanded to everyone.