The word "ciao" (Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃaːo], English: /ˈtʃaʊ/) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either "hello", "goodbye", "bye" or "hi". 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 Hawaiian word aloha.



The word derives from the Venetian phrase sciào vostro (in Italian schiavo vostro) or s-ciào su literally meaning "I am your slave". This greeting is analogous to the 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 "if you ever need my help, count on me"). The Venetian word for "slave", s-ciào ([ˈstʃao]) or s-ciàvo, derives from Latin sclavus.

This greeting expression was eventually shortened to ciào, lost all its servile connotations and came to be used as an informal salutation by speakers of all classes. The word ciào is still used in Venetian and in the Lombard language as an exclamation of resignation, as in Oh, va be', ciào ("Oh, well, never mind!"). A Milanese proverb/tongue-twister says Se gh'inn gh'inn, se gh'inn no 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.

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.[1][not in citation given]

Usage as greeting

In contemporary Italian usage, ciao is interchangeable for both an informal hello and goodbye, much as aloha in Hawaiian, salam in Arabic, shalom in Hebrew or annyeong in Korean. It is to be highly stressed that in Italy ciao is used only in informal contexts, i.e. among family members, relatives, friends, in other words with those one would address with tu (second person singular) as opposed to Lei (third person singular); in these contexts, ciao is far more common even as a morning or evening salutation, in lieu of the buongiorno or buonasera, often perceived as too formal among friends, relatives etcetera.

Despite the equivalence with other forms of greeting, ciao, used in the Italian context, is strictly informal; has the precise meaning of friendship, familiarity, if these events did not occur, (when used with unknown or little known), may be is intended as a request of to be more familiar/friend.

In other languages, ciao has come to have more specific meanings. The following list summarizes the spelling and uses of this salutation in various languages and countries.

  • Arabic : تشاو, chaw ("goodbye")
  • Amharic: ቻው, chaw ("goodbye")
  • Bosnian: ćao ("hi")
  • 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")
  • Greek: τσαο, tsao ("goodbye")
  • Hebrew: צ'או ("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: ciaossu ("hello" or "hi") also "ciao ciao" (bye bye). Actually, the equivalent word in Japanese is こんにちは (written in Hiragana, read: Kon'nichiwa). But with the expansion of the use of American words in modern Japanese resulted in the adoption of チャオ (written in Katakana from the English spelling Chao). Read article: "Influences of Indo-European Languages on Far-Eastern Languages " by Jean LW Lequeux at:
  • 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")
  • Polish: ciał ("goodbye"); also ciao
  • Portuguese: tchau ("goodbye")
  • Romanian: ceau or rarely ciao ("hello" or "goodbye")
  • Russian: чао, chao; ("goodbye"); also jokingly - чао-какао, chao-kakao (from чай — "tea" and какао — "cocoa")
  • Serbian: ћао, ćao ("goodbye" or "hello")
  • 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")
  • Spanish, esp. in Spain and Latin America: chao ("goodbye"); in Argentina, Peru and Uruguay: chau; Bolivia: chao ("goodbye" or "good night")
  • Swiss-German: ciao/Tschau ("hello" or "goodbye")
  • Venetian: ciào ("hello" or "goodbye")
  • Vietnamese: chào ("hello" or "goodbye")

Note that the Vietnamese chào is considered as a native word. However, there were many exchanges between Marco Polo of the Republic of Venice and Vietnam in the 13th Century.[2][3]

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 Chile and Argentina, they also use "ciao 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!".

See also


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