The Origins of the Word Pizza and Other Terms

Pizza, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined as a dish made typically of flattened bread dough spread with a mixture of tomatoes and cheese and often other toppings. Everyone knows what pizza is, but do you know the history of why it’s called a pizza?

Here’s the story: the first usage of the word pizza was documented in AD 997 in Gaeta and then later in different parts of Central and Southern Italy. According to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, a document written in Gaeta contains the first usage of the word. In the document, the son of a feudal lord promises pizza to a local bishop as a yearly tribute. Gaeta, where the document originated, is northwest of Naples, where pizza is believed to have originated around the 16th century.

Based on etymology, the “Vocabolario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana” reveals that pizza comes from the dialectal pinza from the Latin pinsere, which means to pound or stamp. Other etymologists suggest it is related to the Lombardic word bizzo or pizzo, which means mouthful, and is related to the English word bite.

The History of Other Pizza Terms

Cheese, pepperoni, and crust are all terms you might use when ordering a pizza. Each of these words is rooted in history.

The etymology of the word cheese is based on the Latin word caseus, which is also where the word casein is derived from. The word cheese comes from chese, used in Middle English until the late 15th century. Specifically, mozzarella is derived from mozza, which means to cut, and based on the method of working the cheese. The first instance of the term “mozzarella” occurred in a cookbook from 1570.

Pepperoni borrows from the word peperoni, the plural of peperone, the Italian word for bell pepper. The first use of the word pepperoni to refer to a sausage dates back to 1919.

Even the word crust has a history. In the early 14th century, crouste was used in French when referring to the hard outer part of the bread. Crouste is believed to have been derived directly from the Latin crusta, which refers to a rind, shell or bark.

Next time you’re ordering a few pizzas, show off your trivia skills by giving your guests a quick explanation of how these common pizza terms came to be.