The word bankrupt was first attested in English in 1533 as two words, banke rupte. That comes (through Middle French bancque roupte) from the Italian phrase banca rotta, which literally meant "broken bench". Apparently, back in the old days in northern Italy, moneylenders worked from benches in special stalls and physically broke those benches in two when they went insolvent to signal that they no longer were in business. Banca, which is not the source of bank but a relative, traces to the Proto-Germanic word bankiz and eventually Proto-Indo-European beg, meaning "to bend". Rotta, meanwhile, comes from Latin ruptus, the perfect passive participle of rumpere, "to break". That derives from the reconstructed root hrewp, which meant "to tear up" and is also the source of words like erupt, abrupt, bereave, and rout.
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Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.