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The word "ciao" (//; Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃaːo]) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either "hello", "hi", "goodbye", or "bye". Originally from the Venetian language, it was adopted into the Italian language and eventually entered the vocabulary of English and of many other languages around the world. The word is mostly used as "goodbye" or "bye" in English, but in modern Italian and in other languages it may mean "hello" or "goodbye", similar to the word shalom in Hebrew, salaam in Arabic, namaste in Hindi, or aloha in Hawaiian. The Vietnamese word chào ("hello" or "goodbye"), while similar-sounding, is unrelated etymologically.
The word derives from the Venetian phrase s-ciào vostro or s-ciào su literally meaning "I am your slave". This greeting is analogous to the medieval Latin Servus which is still used in a large section of Central/Eastern Europe. The expression was not a literal statement of fact, of course, but rather a perfunctory promise of good will among friends (along the lines of "at your service" in English). The Venetian word for "slave", s-ciào ([ˈstʃao]) or s-ciàvo, derives from Medieval Latin sclavus, which in turn originally meant "Slavic", since Venetians captured slaves in the Balkan peninsula.
This greeting was eventually shortened to ciào, lost all its servile connotations and came to be used as an informal salutation by speakers of all classes. In modern Venetian and Lombard language, as well as in regional Lombard Italian, the word (s-ciào in Venetian, s'ciao in Lombard, ciao in Italian) is used (in addition to the meaning of salutation) as an exclamation of resignation (also in a positive sense), as in Oh, va be', ciao! ("Oh, well, never mind!"). A Milanese proverb/tongue-twister says Se gh'hinn gh'hinn; se gh'hinn nò, s'ciào ("If there is [money], there is; if there isn't, farewell! [there's nothing we can do]").
The Venetian ciào was adopted by the Italian language, with the spelling ciao, presumably during the golden days of the Venetian Republic. It has since spread to many countries in Europe, along with other items of the Italian culture. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the greeting spread to the Americas—especially Colombia, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina—largely by way of Italian immigrants. In today's Cuba, "ciao" as a closing in letters has largely replaced the more traditional "adios," with its religious implications, for many young people. 'Ciao' has also permeated Australian culture, becoming a popular greeting among descendants of Italian immigrants.
Usage as greeting
In contemporary Italian usage, ciao is interchangeable for both an informal hello and goodbye, much like aloha in Hawaiian, salām in Arabic, shalom in Hebrew or annyeong in Korean. In Italy, ciao is mainly used in informal contexts, i.e. among family members, relatives, friends, in other words, with those one would address with the familiar tu (second person singular) as opposed to Lei (courtesy form); in these contexts, ciao is the norm even as a morning or evening salutation, in lieu of buon giorno or buona sera, deemed too formal among friends, relatives, or the very familiar. When used in other contexts, ciao may be interpreted as slightly flirtatious, or a request for friendship or closeness.
In other languages, ciao has come to have more specific meanings. The following list summarizes the spelling and uses of salutations derived from ciao in various languages and countries.
- Amharic: ቻው, chaw ("goodbye")
- Bulgarian: чао, chao ("goodbye")
- Catalan: ciao, txao ("goodbye")
- Chinese: 此奥, ciao ("come on, damn")
- Croatian: ćao
- Czech: čau ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Dutch: ciao ("goodbye")
- English: ciao ("goodbye")
- Esperanto: ĉaŭ ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Estonian: "tšau", also "tšauki" - sometimes pronounced with "s" ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Finnish: "tsau", also "tsaukki" ("hello" or "goodbye")
- French: ciao, tchao (mostly used to say "goodbye"). "Tchao", in French is argotic. In 1983, this word used in the title of a very popular movie: "So long, Stooge", in French: "Tchao, pantin".
- German: ciao, tschau ("goodbye", in Switzerland also "hello")
- Greek: τσαο tsao ("goodbye")
- Hebrew: צ'או chao ("goodbye")
- Hungarian: csáó or the more informal csá or cső ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Interlingua: ciao ("goodbye")
- Italian: ciao ("hello","hi" or "goodbye") also "ciao ciao" (bye bye).
- Japanese: チャオ, chao ("hello" or "hi") also チャオチャオ chao chao (bye bye).
- Latvian: čau ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Lithuanian: čiau ("goodbye", rarely "hello")
- Macedonian: чао, čao ("goodbye")
- Maltese: ċaw ("goodbye"); also ċaw ċaw ("bye bye")
- Montenegrin: ћао, ćao ("goodbye" or "hello")
- Portuguese: tchau ("goodbye"); in Portugal xau is also used, without the "t" sound, especially in written informal language such as SMS or web chats
- Romanian: ciao ("hello" or "goodbye"); it is often written as ceau although this form is not officially in the Romanian vocabulary
- Russian: чао, chao; ("goodbye"); also jokingly - чао-какао, chao-kakao (from чай — "tea" and какао — "cocoa")
- Serbian: ћао, ćao ("goodbye" or "hello")
- Sicilian: ciau ("hello", "hi")
- Slovak: čau (variations: čauko, čaves, čauky, čaf); mostly as "goodbye", but stands in for "hello" primarily in informal written communication (text messages, emails) and phone calls because it is more character-efficient/shorter and more hip than the Slovak "ahoj"
- Slovene: čau or čaw ("hello" or "goodbye"); also čaw čaw ("bye bye")
- Somali: ciao ("goodbye")
- Spanish, esp. in Spain and Latin America: chao or chau ("goodbye")
- Swiss-German: ciao/Tschau ("hello" or "goodbye")
- Turkish: çav ("goodbye")
- Venetian: ciào ("hello" or "goodbye")
In some languages, such as Latvian, the vernacular version of ciao has become the most common form of informal salutation.
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (June 2009)|
The greeting has often several variations and minor uses. In Italian, for example, a doubled ciao ciao means specifically "goodbye", tripled or quadrupled (but said with short breaks between each one) means "Bye, I'm in a hurry!". In some countries of Latin America, they use ciao as "goodbye".
Pronounced with a long [a], it means "Hello, I'm so glad/amazed to meet you!" (be it sincere or sarcastic).
Sometimes, it can also be used to express sarcasm at another person's point of view about one topic, especially in case that opinion may sound outdated, "Sì, ciao!" meaning "that's totally weird!".
In all these cases, however, the special meaning is conferred more by the vocal inflection than by the modified use.
- The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000) ciao