Word Fact: What’s The Origin of Pizza?

pizza, chalkboard

The word pizza is Italian for pie, but how that word wound up in Italian boggles etymologists. It may have come from the Latin pix meaning “pitch” or Greek pitta, but others say that it originated in a Langobardic word bizzo meaning “bite.”

Where did the dish itself emerge? The common belief is that Italians invented pizza, but a baked bread with toppings has many other precursors in other cuisines. Italy’s version of the dish, especially from Naples, is the one we are most familiar with, though pissaladière from Provence, coca from Catalan, and lahma bi ajeen from the Middle East all bear a remarkable resemblance to pizza.

Supposedly, this archetypal pizza, an open-faced pie slathered in tomato sauce and mozzarella, was ushered in by the baker Raffaele Esposito in Naples. In 1889, he made a patriotic pie topped with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes, ingredients the colors of the Italian flag, in honor of King Umberto and Queen Margherita’s visit. It is rumored the Queen enjoyed the pie, and thus, it became known as a Margherita.

In the US, Italian immigrants sold pizza in their stores, and the first pizzeria was opened in 1905 by Gennaro Lombardi at 53 1/3 Spring Street in New York City, but pizza did not truly not catch on stateside until World War II. Stationed in Italy, many American and European soldiers tasted pizza, and brought an appetite for this now-ubiquitous dish home with them.

Where’s your favorite slice from?

Like this Word Fact? Sign up for our Word Fact of the Week email!


  1. Cecil B. -  July 15, 2016 - 12:08 pm

    “Catalan” is the adjective for the people of Catalonia. The writer of this article meant to write Catalonia.

  2. RATNA -  July 15, 2016 - 5:12 am

    let’s find out the answer through google translate hhh

  3. Ggygy -  July 13, 2016 - 8:55 am

    Sorry Italians

  4. Ggygy -  July 13, 2016 - 8:55 am

    Italians are so confusing

  5. Mike -  June 27, 2016 - 3:20 pm

    If the word ‘pizza’ means ‘pie’ in Italian, why do translation sites provide ‘torta’ for the English word ‘pie’? They translate ‘pizza’ as ‘pizza’ in either direction.

    • Karlo Marcos Reyes -  July 8, 2016 - 11:58 am

      because is a romantic language similar to spanish , pie has a different origin than the word torta

      • Bruno Estigarribia -  July 13, 2016 - 7:46 am

        Sorry, not a “romantic” language, but a Romance language (I am a linguist, and I study among other things Romance languages).
        The reason why “translation sites provide ‘torta’ for the English word ‘pie’”, Mike, is because the word ‘pie’ refers to a variety of things which in Spanish have different names: in English you have shepherd’s pie, which would be called “pastel” or “tarta” in some Spanish-speaking countries (but not in others), you can have a cream pie which would be called ‘torta’ or ‘pastel’ in some Spanish-speaking countries, or you can call a pizza a ‘pie’, which you in Spanish would call simply ‘pizza’. This sort of “mismatch” is very common when you translate from one language to another because languages carve up reality in different ways. For example, in Spanish both toes and fingers are called “dedos” (sort of the reverse of what you find with ‘pie’), HTH!

        • Bruno Estigarribia -  July 13, 2016 - 7:48 am

          Sorry, the entry was for Italian, but I think Spanish illustrates the point quite clearly!

    • Antonio -  July 10, 2016 - 11:50 pm

      Indeed, as an Italian I can tell you that the word “pizza” is used only to describe the world-famous dish, and not any kind of pie. For that, the word “torta” is used.

      It would be interesting to also mention the “focaccia” (originated in several regions of Italy and France) -at the end of the day it’s merely a thicker pizza with less ingredients.

      By the way, Italians enjoy their pizza with 2 or 3 ingredients, rarely more. Other Europeans add many toppings.

      • Ggygy -  July 13, 2016 - 8:49 am

        Hmm Italians

  6. Stephen -  December 5, 2014 - 4:32 pm

    In 1958, while in Naples on a course, we visited a bakery which claimed to be the “original” pizzeria. The baker told us that pizza originated from a practice of quickly baking flat pieces of dough to test its rising ability. These cakes were coated with a little oil and spices and then given to the poor. One must certainly believe what Neopolitans tell American tourists.

    With regards to “pix” as a possible origin of the word “pizza.” isn’t pix also a term for a container to carry communion wafers? Perhaps a little depraved irony.

    • Giovanni -  June 14, 2016 - 9:51 am

      “One must certainly believe what Neapolitans tell American tourists”? LMFAO!

  7. cub 68134 -  August 18, 2014 - 3:27 pm

    Torta is Itallian for pie.

    • Ariel -  November 11, 2014 - 6:29 pm

      Can confirm, used Google Translate.

      • Abbey Road -  December 24, 2014 - 2:19 am

        Google Translate?
        So that’s all right!

        • marina -  April 1, 2016 - 12:43 pm

          Salut tout le monde


Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top