Become a maestro of the English language with Tim Bowen’s guide to Italian words in English.

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The Italian language is a rich source of English vocabulary, particularly in the areas of music and cuisine. 

Apart from the words used to give instructions or to describe the speed and volume of music, such as allegro, andante and crescendo, Italian musical terms that have made their way into English include such diverse terms as trombone, piano, prima donna (now mainly used to refer to someone who thinks that they are important or special and who is very difficult to please), maestro and opera

In the area of food and drink, we have biscuit (originally from bis cotto – cooked twice), bruschetta, ciabatta and, of course, spaghetti, not to mention types of coffee, such as espresso, Americano and macchiato (literally ‘stained’ and meaning with just a dash of milk). 

Words related to buildings include balcony, mezzanine and villa, while graffiti (the term for words or pictures written or drawn on buildings illegally) also has its origins in Italian. 

In the world of business, Italian terms include bankrupt, finance and management, while in politics we have manifesto, segregation and ghetto

Geographical terms with Italian roots include marina, Riviera, lagoon and volcano.

Teaching tip: ask learners to use a search engine to find the meaning (and, if possible, also the original meaning) of these English words of Italian origin: replica, grotto, ditto, lingua franca, scenario, bandit and tombola. Tip: the question ‘What is the origin of the word …’ will usually provide an answer.