Ciao… It’s a word that you hear nearly every day. Whether Italy, France, Germany, England, or the U.S.
It’s one of those words — a popular salutation — that has become a thread in the fabric of our lives. From teenagers to their grandparents, from celebrities to Joe the Plumber, from New York to Los Angeles and every neighborhood in between, even if you don’t use the word, you know what it means…
In English ciao is used exclusively as a salutation when saying good-bye.
In Italian, it’s used as both a greeting and a farewell. And when saying good-bye, Italians will often say it twice: ciao ciao…
The word comes from sixteenth-century Venetian dialect, ciao from the Latin sclavus meaning slave.
It was commonly used at the court of Venice (at the height of the Most Serene Republic of Venice) to express respect as in the saying, “I am your humble servant.”
In English it’s commonly pronounced similarly to the word chow (/ˈtʃaʊ/).
In Italian, the oh in the (letter) o is more prominent (ˈtʃaːo).
The Venetians, who have a five- as opposed to seven-vowel system (like that in Italian), emphasize all the vowels: chee-ah-oh.
Such a small word but such a great legacy. All stretching back to a form of courtesy in Renaissance Venice.
The famous “Ciao” moped was produced by Piaggio from 1967-2006.
Everyone knows the Italian word ciao: it’s become part of the cultural fabric of every English-speaking country.
What a lot of people don’t know is that ciao is used in Italy as both a greeting — as in hello — and a farewell — as in good-bye.
Although the expression is now considered standard Italian, it is Venetian in origin. It means literally slave or servant (from the Latin sclavus) and it was commonly used by courtiers in the sixteenth-century in greeting or saying farewell: [I am your humble] servant.
Another way that ciao is commonly mis- and re-interpreted in English-speaking countries is that in Italy, ciao is used strictly in informal settings. Outside of Italy, it is used regardless of the “register” of formality required by the setting.
For example, if you were to say ciao to a waiter in a restaurant, she or he would be offended by your presumptuously informal tone.
The proper way to greet a restaurateur or shopkeeper (or any other professional acquaintance for that matter) is by saying buon giorno (good day) or buona sera (good evening). And both can be used as both greeting and farewell.