10 German words which come from Italian

Germany and Italy have throughout history undeniably influenced each other - even linguistically.

10 German words which come from Italian
The Colosseum, Rome. Photo: DPA

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.


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.

SEE ALSO: The German words we use everyday – which are actually French


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.

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10 ways to express surprise in German

From woodland fairies to whistling pigs, the German language has a colourful variety of phrases to express surprise.

10 ways to express surprise in German

1. Alter Schwede!

You may recognise this phrase from the cheese aisle at the supermarket, but it’s also a popular expression in Germany for communicating surprise. 

The phrase, which means “old Swede” comes from the 17th century when King Frederick William enlisted the help of experienced Swedish soldiers to fight in the Thirty Years’ War.

Because of their outstanding performance in battle, the Swedish soldiers became popular and respected among the Prussians, and they were respectfully addressed as “Old Swede”. Over the last three hundred years, the phrase developed into one to convey awed astonishment. 

READ ALSO: German word of the day – Alter Schwede

2. Holla, die Waldfee!

This curious expression literally means “Holla, the wood fairy”. It can be used both as an exclamation of astonishment and to insinuate that something is ridiculous.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK.

Engraving of a fairy in the picnic park in Enfield in the UK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Mareike Graepel

There are various explanations as to how the forest fairy made it into the German lexicon. Some say that it comes from the Grimm’s fairy tale “Frau Holle,” while others say it comes from an old song called “Shoo, shoo, the forest fairy!”

READ ALSO: 10 words and phrases that will make you sound like a true German

3. Das ist ja ein dicker Hund!

Literally meaning “that is indeed a fat dog!” this expression of surprise presumably originates from a time in the past when German dogs were generally on the thinner side.

4. Ich glaube, ich spinne!

The origin of this expression is questionable, because the word “Spinne” means “spider” and also “I spin”. Either way, it’s used all over Germany to mean “I think I’m going crazy” as an expression of surprise.

5. Ich glaube, mein Schwein pfeift!

The idea of a pig whistling is pretty ridiculous, and that’s where the phrase  – meaning “I think my pig whistles” – comes from. Germans use this expression when they can’t believe or grasp something, or to express that they are extremely surprised.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture.

The pig Rosalie stands on a farm in a pasture. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

6. Meine Güte!

This straightforward phrase simply means “my goodness” and is a commonly used expression of astonishment.

7. Oha!

More of a sound than a word, this short exclamation will let the world know that you are shocked by something.

READ ALSO: Denglisch: The English words that will make you sound German

8. heilige Blechle!

Often when surprised or outraged, we might let slip an exclamation that refers to something sacred. This phrase fits into that bracket, as it means “holy tin box”. 

The peculiar expression comes from the Swabian dialect and refers to the cash box from which the poor were paid by the Church in the Middle Ages.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt.

The green house number nine which won an award for energy-efficient renovation and construction in Saxony-Anhalt. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert

9. ach du grüne Neune!

This slightly antiquated expression literally means “oh you green nine!”, or “oh, my goodness!” and is one you’re more likely to hear among the older generation of Germans.

The origin of the phrase is disputed. One explanation claims that it comes from the famous 19th century Berlin dance hall “Conventgarten” which, although it was located in Blumenstraße No. 9, had its main entrance in “Grüner Weg”. Therefore, the locals renamed it as “Grüne Neune” (Green Nine).

Another explanation is that the phrase comes from fairs where playing cards were used to read the future. In German card games, the “nine of spades” is called “green nine” – and pulling this card in a fortune telling is a bad omen.

10. Krass!

The word Krass in German is an adjective that means blatant or extreme, but when said on its own, it’s an expression of surprise. Popular among young Germans, it’s usually used in a positive way, to mean something like “awesome” or “badass”.