Thursday, 15 May 2014

Ciao - Venetian Slaves & Friendly Waves


Interjection. Colloquial. Early 20th century.
[Italian dialectical alteration of schiavo (I am your) slave, from medieval Latin sclavus slave.]

Hello; goodbye.

Ciao! It’s one of the best-known greetings in the world, and I thought it would be a great way to introduce myself to the Lexicolatry community. But first, let’s explore ciao - besides being an interchangeable hello and goodbye, like the Hawaiian aloha, ciao has an interesting etymology.

With a little digging, I found the origin of ciao is from the Venetian dialect word ‘s-ciavo’ used in the phrase “sono vostro schiavo” which literally means “I am your slave.” The Venetian word comes from the Latin ‘sclavus’ (slave) which in turn is used to identify Slavic people. In the 1400s, Venice ruled most of the world’s commerce and as a result a majority of their slaves were Slavic.

Naturally the racial and social connotations have long been lost, and today ciao is an informal greeting or parting word in many languages. However, when speaking Italian, unless you know someone already, or they say ‘ciao’ first, it’s better to use a more formal greeting like ‘salve’.

What’s your favorite way to say hello?

What’s your favorite way to say goodbye?

What language is it in?

Let me know in the comments below.

Thank you, Jessica, for you first posting on Lexi. Jessica currently works for Noodle, whose mission it is to help people made better decisions in education. She is a graduate of Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, and outside of work enjoys reading, sci-fi nerdery and exploring the interwebs. Oh, and she's also an awesome rock climber. Follow Jessica on Twitter @jkfinger. Cheers! Ed


  1. I would rather use the "salve" (what a wonderful greeting; though I'm sure it would be seen as a religious greeting as Salve is used as Hail in many prayers) but ciao is already too impregnated in our language (Portuguese). Though (too) non-formal. At least for my ears...

    But it is mostly used in the farewell not as hello (for "hello" we use "Olá" or depending on the time of the day "Bom Dia" (good morning), "Boa Tarde" (good afternoon) or "Good Night" (good evening). The "Olá" being less formal and the greeting according the time for more formal (and safe) sense).

    People also tend to avoid the goodbye as it sounds a farewell for eternity... When one says "adeus" (goodbye) people rant and ask you to choose another word as they really want to see you again so the goodbye was/is substituted by "see you" (soon, around etc).

  2. I don't think I have a favourite way of saying hello or goodbye.
    I think it more depends on my mood at the time, and who the person is.
    But like Teresa mentioned, I rarely use goodbye. It is way too final for my liking.
    Later gater! :)

  3. Hi there, I'm Piero Fissore, the flickr photo author. I'm glad you used one of my shot for this nice post. Just one thing: you're supposed to share the picture as it is, without cropping. Could you please use the original one? Thanks. Oh, since I'm writing from Italy... ciao. ;)

  4. It's amazing how 'ciao' has caught on internationally, and yet other, perfectly good, native English goodbyes like 'Toodlepip!' have fallen into disuse.

    1. When you see a movie with action in Italy you listen to that "Ciao" in their happy and musical tone and end up catching it...
      I never heard "Toodle..." THAT. Ever!
      Though after googling it I understand it is as informal as the "Ciao".
      Easier the "Ciao", Eddie ;) (at least in Portuguese - lots of tong rolling and popping to manage the toodlepip - but so happy to learn a new one!)