The word Ciao is the most common form of friendly and informal greeting in the Italian language used for both “hello” and “goodbye”.
It comes from the Venetian language and has found its way into English and other languages around the world.
“Ciao” entered the Italian language only during the twentieth century. It derives from the Venetian term s’ciao ([ˈst͡ʃao]), coming from the Late Latin sclavus, which can be translated as “[I am] your slave”.
It was a reverential greeting, variously attested in the comedies of Carlo Goldoni in which it is pronounced with haughtiness by cicisbei and nobles; in The Innkeeper, for example, the Knight of Ripafratta takes leave of the bystanders with “Friends, I am your slave”, an expression also used by Don Roberto in the comedy La dama prudente (act I, scene VI).
However, starting from the nineteenth century it spread as an informal greeting first in Lombardy, where it was altered to take the form “ciao”. In the same period in some Italian regions the alternative formula “I am your slave” spread.
However, the “ciao” form became predominant. In the following century, it spread to the whole of Italy. The informal salutation servus, widespread in central Europe, shares with ciao a similar etymology.
Other Venetian words have also come into international common usage such as quarantine, gazette or ghetto.
The use of the word “ciao” in other languages
The word has spread throughout the world following the migrations of Italians and has also entered the lexicon of numerous other languages as an informal greeting, almost always solely for farewell. This section lists some circumstances where the word “ciao” or words derived from it have entered the informal lexicon of other languages.
A few examples:
Albanian: çao / qao;
Bulgarian, Macedonian, Russian: чао (čao, more used in farewell);
Dutch: ciao (“goodbye”);
English: ciao (“goodbye”);
Estonian: tšau (both in the meeting and in the farewell);
Finnish: “tsau”, also “tsaukki” (“hello” or “goodbye”);
French: hello or tchao (in farewell);
Portuguese: tchau (in the farewell); in Portugal, chau chau is also used; in Brazil, the diminutive form tchauzinho is also used;
Spanish, especially in Latin America, and in Spain, in the juvenile language: chao or, more rarely chau (used above all in the farewell).
German: ciau (only at the farewell);
Turkish: çav (in the farewell)
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