The Etymology of the Word ‘Pizza’


There’s little doubt that pizza is one of the favourite foods on the planet, enjoying global appeal and ever-growing popularity. It’s also one of the few gastronomic inventions that has managed to transcend almost all language barriers. Whilst you might prefer to refer to this mouth-watering combination of crust, sauce, melted cheese, and toppings as a pie, a deep dish, a slice, a za, a stuffed crust, a dough disc, or a cheesy wheel, the word ‘pizza’ is actually pretty much the same in most countries and languages around the globe.

So, where did the word pizza originally come from?

The concept of garnishing some variety of flatbread or baked dough with a savoury topping can be traced back thousands of years through history. In fact, this much-loved delicacy is said to have been popular with the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. However, it is the west coast of Italy where our modern-day equivalent is widely believed to have been born. One of the earliest recorded usages of the word ‘pizza’ was documented in a 997 AD Latin church manuscript from the town of Gaeta, northwest of Naples, and detailed an annual homage of pizza from a feudal lord to a local bishop.

Various suggestions have been put forward to explain the etymology of the word itself. Some historians and etymologists have speculated that the word comes from the Greek ‘pita’ and Byzantine ‘pitta’, meaning bread or pie. These, in turn, likely derived from the ancient Greek pikte (fermented pastry), pissa (pitch), or petea (bran).[i]

Others have suggested that pizza is related to the Lombardic word bizzo or pizzo, meaning mouthful, and most closely translated to ‘bite’ in English. These words would have been introduced into Italy by the Lombards, an ancient Germanic people who settled in northern Italy in the sixth century, leading to the area being christened Lombardy.[ii]

According to the Etymological Dictionary of the Italian Language, a third theory hypothesises that the name originated from the dialectal pinza from the Latin pinsere, meaning to pound or stamp.[iii]

The word pizza was integrated into the English language in the 1930s when it was borrowed from the Italian as the dish became more well known. Previously, pizza was generally known as ‘tomato pie’ by English speakers, a name still used in some regional variations today.

In Italy, a small pizza is sometimes referred to as a pizzetta (from the same root), whilst a pizza maker is a pizzaiolo.

Whilst the exact origins of the word itself remain uncertain; you can be sure that you’ll be able to get your hands on a pizza no matter where in the world you might find yourself. And the best bit – you won’t even have to learn a new word for it.