The Origins of the Word ‘Ciao’


Le origini della parola ‘ciao’
Ciao" - both hello and bye in Italian with flag

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Ciao is one of the words we Italians use more often in a day, and is probably the most famous Italian word abroad (well, after pizza). 

And yet, the origins of the word ‘ciao’ have nothing to do with familiarity as we use it today to greet someone we know well. Ciao derives from an ancient Venetian greeting, ’s'ciavo,’ that is ‘slave’ (implied: yours), which people used to express respect. 

’S'ciavo’ descends in turn from the Latin ‘sclavus,’ which has the same meaning and was used to indicate people of Slavic ethnicity, from which came the greatest number of slaves in the Mediterranean.

Originally then, ‘ciao’ meant nothing more than ‘your slave’ (schiavo suo), or ‘your obedient servant’ (servo vostro). Far from the confidential greeting that it is today, ciao was a greeting that expressed submission and respect, either sincere or simple etiquette. It meant symbolically placing oneself at the other's disposal as a servant.

It’s only in 1818 that we find the first written evidence of the word ‘ciao,’ but it is thought that the habit of greeting someone by declaring yourself their slave began in the 15th century.

‘Ciao,’ which originated in northern Italy and later spread to the rest of the country, eventually lost its servile connotations and came to be used as an informal salutation by speakers of all classes. 

Here’s a little refresher on the use of the word ‘ciao’: it is a form of friendly greeting which you use with friends, relatives and family members; you use ciao both when you meet someone and when you say goodbye to someone you address using the ‘tu’; when you address someone using the formal ‘lei,’ for example in work situations or with the elderly, instead of ciao, you would use ‘Buongiorno,’ (when you meet them) and ‘arrivederci’ (when you leave).


‘Ciao’ è una delle parole che noi italiani usiamo più spesso nella giornata, ed è probabilmente la parola italiana più famosa all'estero (beh, dopo la parola ‘pizza’!).

Eppure, le origini della parola ‘ciao’ non hanno nulla a che vedere con l’espressione di familiarità che usiamo oggi per salutare qualcuno che conosciamo bene. ‘Ciao’ deriva da un antico saluto veneziano, 's'ciavo', cioè 'schiavo' (sottinteso: tuo), che si usava per esprimere rispetto.

'S'ciavo' discende a

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