The Italianissimo pizza—pronounced /ˈpiʦ:a/—is not always spelled or called pizza around the world:

  • In Bosnia, Belarusian, Macedonia, Serbia
    it's spelled pica but pronounced /pîtsa/
  • In Estonian; pitsa
  • The Greeks call it πίτσα (pítsa)
  • In Haitian it's pitza
  • In Thai it's พิซซ่า (Phiss̀ā)
  • In Vietnamese it's bánh pizza

For everyone else it's just plain pizza, except...

in the USA, where some Americans call it pizza pie. I don't think anywhere else in the world (except in Vietnam and China) is the Neapolitan dish a compound word.

Different theories abound on the net: I have read claims that it's called pie because it is cut in triangles, that its round shape is reminiscent of a pie chart, some who sustain that the first pizzas baked in the US were simply called tomato pies, and others who say pizza is Italian for “pie”; however, that last claim is untrue. In Italy pies/cakes/tarts and pizzas are not interchangeable. Un dolce (“a sweet”) is the name for any cake or fruit filled tart whereas the term, torta, covers both cakes and any savoury or sweet-filling open pie. For example, an “open vegetable pie” is torta di verdure, and a “birthday cake” is torta di compleanno. When pizza dough is baked without any topping (but for a generous drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt crystals), it is called focaccia while in some parts of Italy the term pizza bianca (“white pizza”) is used.

I believe the English term pie refers especially to the crust, and as we all know, pies have a filling be it sweet or savoury. The classic open “pie” is topped with tomato and mozzarella cheese, but in the US the choice of toppings is limitless.

Did you know that February 9th is National Pizza Pie Day in the US? Unfortunately, I was unable to discover how old this epicurean feast is and where it originated, but it does tell me that the term pizza pie is alive and well today. Back in 1953 Dean Martin crooned

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie
That's amore

  • But when did the words pizza pie first appear in print?
  • And where did it originate?
  • What is its origin?
  • Worth noting that there are important differences between pizza dough and focaccia dough. Commented Jul 1, 2019 at 14:54
  • 1
    You know I always misheard the lyrics to that song as "When the moon hits your eye, like a big piece of pie..." Why? Well, I had never heard "pizza pie" before in my life at that point. When I did hear it I didn't believe it because (just my personal opinion) pizza and pie are obviously completely different things!
    – Johan
    Commented Sep 5, 2019 at 8:57

7 Answers 7


My guess is that Italian immigrants in the United States themselves adopted the duplicate name as a kind of Rosetta Stone approach to naming things in familiar Italian and unfamiliar English. A Google Books search turns up an interesting but all-too-brief note on the the possible origin of pizza pie in Arthur Livingston, "La Merica Sanemagogna," in The Romanic Review (April–June 1918):

Interpretative combinations are evident in two cases that I know: canabuldogga, “bull-dog,” and pizza-paia. I long supposed we were here dealing with "piece-of-pie" pure and simple, I believe it was Professor Ettari, of the City College of New York, who pointed out to me that pizzapaia is really pizza + pie. It is that infamous tedescheria called “cheese-cake,” a degradation of the American custard pie.

Livingston's account is confirmed much later by Michael La Sorte, La Merica: Images Of Italian Greenhorn Experience (2010):

The Neapolitan dialect had a marked influence on Italglish. Ncuop corresponds to the word up. Ncuop was used alone or to form the words for "uptown" (coppetane) and "upstairs" (coppesteso). Dollaro, an obvious rendering of "dollar," never took hold among the southern Italians. Their preference was for the dialect terms scudo or pezzo. Pizza was combined with "pie" to form pizzapaia. Literally, the term is redundant because it means pizza pizza—or pie pie. Pizzapaia had sufficient ambiguity so that even the linguists of the day could only wonder at its origin and true meaning. It was used in a number of contexts: to mean pizza, a piece of pie or a specific type of pastry, or a man of questionable masculinity.

I agree with Josh61's view (expressed in his answer to this question) that the origin of pizza pie (and of pizzapaia) was almost certainly New York City.

  • 3
    Super answer. The paia is the sound an Italian (maybe even Neapolitan or Sicilian) would reproduce seeing the letters in pie, those who were literate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 10:35
  • Your citation 1918 precedes OED, doesn't it?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 10:54
  • @Mari-LouA: Yes—if you accept pizzapaia or "pizza + pie" as a first instance. I don't know whether OED would consider that appropriate, but from an etymological perspective it seems unimpeachable. I found multiple citation's to Livingston's article that give its publication date as 1918, so I think the date is firm, though I wouldn't have trusted it if it had been attested by Google Books alone.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 16:04
  • You should inform OED :) There's an online form that you can fill out.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 16:45
  • 1
    Sicilian Americans simply say "abeetz" (accent on the second syllable). My husband loves the word for 'heavy traffic' - which was often heard in my grandparents NYC home: "bombidibomba" (Apparently, they really liked the sound of "bumper-to-bumper" - which was heard often on the radio there.)
    – Oldbag
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 18:06

The term pie might have been first used in New York where Italian immigrants had settled from the second half of the 19th century. My idea is that Americans rightly called it 'pie'. But since Italians told them its name was pizza, 'pizza pie' was a natural way to call it.

  • Gennaro Lombardi entered the picture as the father of American pizza. - He first opened a grocery store in New York City in 1897 and it quickly became a popular lunch hangout after Gennaro began selling tomato and cheese pies to take out. Gennaro’s early pizzas were conveniently wrapped in plain paper and became a favorite of workers. Gennaro came up with the idea of offering to sell his pizzas by the slice.

from The Pie That Conquered America -The First Pizzeria in the United States

The following useful comment offers more insight:

  • Yes, pizza pie is simply pizza. It used to be more common, but has gotten rarer over the decades, although you’ll still hear it, and the standalone pie is very common as the unit of pizza.

  • The OED records pizza pie from 1939, which is also the first citation of pizza in a non-Italian (i.e., American) context

  • There’s also tomato pie, which is another old name for a pizza, once common to New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania, and which DARE records from 1942. I recall a sign for “Maruca’s Tomato Pies” when I worked on the Seaside Heights, New Jersey boardwalk in the 1980s, but no one ever actually called them tomato pies.

Evidence of usage of the expression "pizza pie" can be found in an April 21, 1939 article by food columnist Clementine Paddleford of New York Herald Tribune :

  • Largely, though, most Americans at that time had never heard of pizza. "If someone suggests a 'pizza pie' after the theater, don't think it is going to be a wedge of apple," wrote New York Herald Tribune food columnist Clementine Paddleford in 1939. "It is going to be the surprise of your life,... a nice stunt to surprise the visiting relatives, who will be heading East soon for the World's Fair. They come to be surprised, and pizza, pronounced 'peet-za,' will do the job brown."
  • So because the first pizzas were sold in slices, people called it a pizza pie. Possibly... Did Lombardi actually call or sell his pizza as pizza pie?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jul 31, 2015 at 10:13
  • Could you confirm whether the OED does say 1939? I can't find any other reference, the references cite 1935 for pizza, which seems very strange as NYC already had a few pizzerias by 1920.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 14:40
  • 1
    @Mari-LouA - Pizza has a much older origin books.google.com/ngrams/…. "A description of pizza in Naples around 1830 is given by the French writer and food expert Alexandre Dumas in his work Le Corricolo, Chapter VIII. He writes that pizza was the only food of the humble people in Naples during winter and that "in Naples pizza is flavored with oil ,...." alanskitchen.com/HISTORY-FOOD/0001-0025/0001_pizza_history.htm. Unluckily I have no access to OED. Still looking.
    – user66974
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 17:28
  • Yes, the origin of pizza is much older than 1935, but English dictionaries will list only words that have entered the English vernacular. And I doubt very few knew about the existence of pizza beyond the confines of the mainland continent in mid 19th century. France is Italy's next door neighbour, so I'm sure the term pizza was already familiar with them. I'm really curious about the 1939 date regarding pizza pie it just seems to contradict the facts. And believe me, I have tried looking but came up with zero.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 18:47
  • Just additional info: "ProQuest's earliest hit for the query "pizza and pizzeria" is the following, from the Chicago Tribune, 1939:" Five, notice that this "pizza" was served "in a tin pie plate". That doesn't necessarily mean much, but it could be that the "pie" error was already going on, and that this "pizza" was already of that round-shaped soupy "deep dish" sort that Chicago later became so closely associated with. englishforums.com/English/HistoryChicagoPizzaError-Update/lvmlh/…
    – user66974
    Commented Aug 1, 2015 at 20:02

In a New-York Tribune article, printed December 06, 1903, the journalist clearly refers to the classic Italian dish. The piece is entitled: Do Fiery Foods Cause Fiery Natures? and tells us that Italian immigrants living in New York at the turn of the 20th century used to call it pomodori pizza (tomato pizza). Native New Yorkers saw its semblance to a pie and thus renamed it “tomato pie”.

In the article, the reporter misspells it as pomodore pizza, a forgiveable error, but it is worth noting that the dish did not contain any mozzarella, a cheese which would have been impossible to find in any New York grocery store in the late 1800s.

Take a lump of dough, and, under a roller, flatten it out until it is only an inch thick. On this scatter tomatoes and season plentifully with powdered red pepper. Then bake the compound.

Meanwhile, the Americangreen tomato pie”, and “ripe tomato pie”, both desserts, were well-known in the 19th century. It is therefore plausible that the more exotic term, pizza, was tagged onto “pie” at a later date to avoid any confusion.

The reporter also mentioned “salami pizza” and translated it as bologna pie. I don't know if “bologna” or “bologna sausage” used to stand for salami in the past, but today it is recognized as being the American name for mortadella.

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I've heard it used, but still by far, it is not as common as simply "pizza". This Google n-gram specifically of American English, compares usage.

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Highly recommended: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v0eGUQWENMc , where you will find that "The Gaylords" (very famous in the fifties and sixties) use "pizza" and "pizza pie" indifferently. Italian pizza is simply a type of a pie, that's all. P.S.: I recommend also the other songs of that group.

  • I've finally plucked the courage to listen to this tune. And, I hate to admit it, but it really made me smile. Nay, I chuckled heartedly. The song is so corny, cringeworthy, stereotypical, and clichè; it's really good. I've tried looking online for the lyrics but w/o any success. Definitely a very catchy tune and worth 10 points. Recorded in 1954, or so it seems.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 20:01

My parents, who would be in their early 80s now and grew up in Yonkers on the Bronx city line never referred to pizza as pizza, it was always "hot pie"

Dad was Irish and mom was German. In the Yonkers groups on the net, many of us remember hearing hot pie in our youth.

  • How interesting! Were they second generation Italian immigrants by any chance?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 19:36
  • 1
    Dad was Irish and mom was German. In the Yonkers groups on the net, many of us remember hearing hot pie in our youth. Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 20:12
  • Could you add that info in your answer? You can "edit" your post. I do like eye witness accounts, but they need a little extra background info. I'll upvote your answer, if you do..
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 6, 2015 at 20:39

Growing up in Bensonhurst, B'klyn, we always called a (or when ordering) a whole pie, "a pizza pie".

If you wanted a piece, it is called a "slice"

If you wanted a square, you called it "a Sicilian"...Which my favorite was from the center cut of the Sicilian pie...Which by the way, we never called it a Sicilian pie, it was refered to as a "whole sicilian"

Here's how the orders would go: "Frankie Boy, I'll have a slice please" "Two pies to go, thanks Vito" "I'll have a Sicilian from the center Joey, with a fountain Coke". "Give me two pies with pepperoni and a whole sicilian with extra cheese to go"

It's a New York thing

  • Love hearing about the square centre piece being called Sicilian. It would be great if you could find any references to support this, but +1 anyway from me.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented May 26, 2016 at 5:46

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