Interesting History of the Word "Ciao"


The word "ciao" (/ˈtʃaʊ/; Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃaːo]) is an informal salutation in the Italian language that is used for both "hello", "hi" and "goodbye". Originally from the Venetian language, it has entered the vocabulary of English and of many other languages around the world. Its dual meaning of "hello" and "goodbye" makes it similar to shalom in Hebrew, salaam in Arabic, annyeong in Korean, and 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".[1] 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, deriving from the ethnic "Slavic", since most of the slaves came from the Balkans.

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 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 Northern Italian people during the late 19th and early 20th century. Later it become common elsewhere in Italy with the spelling ciao. 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 (spelled 'chau' and only meaning 'bye') 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 "adiós," with its religious implications, for many young people.[citation needed] 'Ciao' has also permeated Australian culture, becoming a popular greeting among descendants of Italian immigrants.

Ernest Hemingway's novel A Farewell to Arms (1929), which is set in northeast Italy during World War I, is credited with bringing the word into the English language.[2][not in citation given].

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 can be 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")
  • 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")
  • Malay: چاو دولو, cau dulu ("goodbye"); used informally in Malaysia by the leaving party. The word "cau" can be used informally as a verb which means "leave"
  • Maltese: ċaw ("goodbye"); also ċaw ċaw ("bye bye")
  • Montenegrin: ћао, ćao ("goodbye" or "hello")
  • Polish: ciao [ˈt͡ɕa.ɔ] (rare)
  • 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: in Argentina and Uruguay the word chau is the most common expression for "goodbye". In Spain, where "adios" (with a religious etymology as "goodbye") is the common expression, a few young people would use chao as an original way of greeting.
  • 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.


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.


April 11, 2015


Molto interessante Rafforza, grazie!! Un salutino veloce dalla Francia, ciao ciao ;-))

April 11, 2015

Thanks for sharing that! That is very interesting to learn that about "ciao" and also "servus." :)

April 11, 2015

Thanks for the detailed explanation. At least if I ever need someone to write an essay on the history of Italian greetings I know who to ask!

April 12, 2015

It would seem that the Venetian s-ciào is dialect for schiavo. And it would seem there is a connection with the Austrian (alto adige) use of servus as similar to ciao

April 13, 2015


April 14, 2015

That was fascinating. Thank you for sharing it!

April 14, 2015


April 11, 2015

Grazie per questo. E molto interessante!

April 11, 2015

Molto interessante, grazie. Ciao ciao!

April 12, 2015

Nice article

April 12, 2015

is there a history about the word Hram or Mafroom ?

April 12, 2015


April 13, 2015

Very interesting. I am fascinated by how many 'ciao's our friends can get into when saying goodbye on the phone - about seven is usual... ciao-ciao, ciao, ciao-ciao, ciao-ciao-ciao.......

April 13, 2015

Ciao is the only word in Italian that I know of that isn't pronounced as it is written... The word is Ciao while you pronounce it Ciau... Do you know of any other Italian words that aren't pronounced as they are written?

April 13, 2015
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