Whether you are coming or going, flying in or flying out, embarking or disembarking, you can’t escape hearing the word “Ciao!” It is everywhere you go, from Rome to Thailand! “Ciao! Come stai?! Bene grazie! A dopo! Ciao!”.
Simply hearing the word “Ciao” is enough to conjure up an image of Marcello Mastroianni, dressed in an Armani suit, sporting dark Prada sunglasses. As the greeting rolls off your tongue you also have visions of Anita dancing in a fountain carved by Bernini, and Audrey roaring around Rome on a bright red Vespa. Simply uttering the two staccato sounds: “Ciao Ciao!” brings to mind corner bars and clinking coffee cups, and you swear you can smell the scent of a freshly brewed espresso and a warm “cornetto”.
This iconic Italian greeting has worked its way into almost all contemporary western languages, and is widely understood in the westernized world. It is the casual greeting that epitomizes a modern, informal generation. You are just as likely to hear the salutation on a backlot movie studio in Los Angeles as the fashion streets of Milano. “Ciao! Let’s do lunch and sign that movie deal!”
The word has spread like wildfire and has circled the globe, spreading Italian “coolness” everywhere it pops up in conversation. Of course there are other Italian greetings that you can use, like “Salve!”, “Buon giorno!”, “Buona giornata!”, “Buon dì!”, “Buona sera!” and “Buona notte!”, “Arriverderci!”, “Pronto!” and others, but none of these are as swanky, or as endearing as the word “Ciao!”
In the Italian language “Ciao” is a convenient and serviceable little salutation that can be used on any occasion. It doesn’t care about your position in society - whether you sweep streets with a broom, or wear a crown, carry a scepter and sit on a throne. You can use “Ciao” in informal situations that require the “tu” form, as when you greet your dog or your ninety-year old grandmother.
You can also use it for more formal situations in which the use of the “Lei” form is more appropriate. For instance, when meeting the president of “la Repubblica”. So, relax! You will never find yourself “in un pasticcio” (in trouble) saying the word “Ciao”. Whether you are greeting a business colleague on via Cavour in Rome, or waving goodbye to “un fidanzato” (boyfriend) on the tarmac at Fiumicino… “Ciao-is-the-word!”
Originally the expression “Ciao” evolved from the Venetian dialect, from the phrase “s-ciào” which means “I am your slave”. The expression did not literally imply the notion: “il tuo desiderio è il mio ordine!” (your wish is my command!) Instead the word was used as a means of expressing good will among friends, kind of like “I’m at your service” in English. If you want to get really technical and dig around the etymology of the word “Ciao” you will discover that the Venetian word for “slave” or “s-ciào” derives from the Medieval Latin word “sclavus”, which can be traced back to the ethnic word “slavic” since most slaves at that time came from the Balkans.
Over the course of time (and many gondola boat rides later) the Venetian greeting “s-ciào” was eventually shorted to “Ciao”, and completely lost its servile connotation. During the golden days of the Venetian Republic, the greeting ‘grew legs’ (grew in popularity and usage) and wandered up and down the Italian peninsula making friends wherever it decided to rest its hat. Eventually, it hitchhiked its way into Europe, bringing its distinctive Italian warmth to chillier northern capitals.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries the word “Ciao”, along with other adventuresome Italian emigrants, boarded boats headed across the Atlantic to the Americas. It disembarked in ports all over South America, making its entry into countries like Colombia, Uruguay, Ecuador and Peru. In Cuba “Ciao” became so popular, it eventually replaced the Cuban greeting “Adiòs”. The salutation continued to set sail on the high seas, until finally reaching the Great Barrier reef in North Eastern Australia, along with the Italian Emigrants who settled in Australia during the early 20th century.
How did the word “Ciao” wash up on the shores of Staten Island in New York City, at the very feet of the Statue of Liberty? Here’s a fun fact! It was Ernest Hemingway’s Word War I novel, “A Farewell to Arms”, written in 1929 and set in war torn Italy, that popularized the term “Ciao” in the English language (Wikipedia, 2014).
As you can see the word “Ciao!” is quite versatile and very similar to the Hawaiian greeting “Aloha”, which also means “Hello!” and “Goodbye!”. The charming thing about the word “Ciao” is that it has a lot of personality, and depending on your intonation and how you use the word, it can emphasis friendship, as in “Ciaaaaooooo” sono contenta di vederti! (Hiii! I am so happy were bumped into each other!), to the the more flirtatious, “Ciao bella! Mi piacciono i tuoi occhi...Vuoi uscire con me stasera?” (Hey babe! I like your eyes...do you want to go out with me tonight?”) Drawing the word out to emphasis all the vowels in this little triphthong can also express affection; but other times, depending on the inflection of your voice, can express sarcasm. A bright staccato explosion of the word greeting can also express surprise and disbelief. Using a double “Ciao Ciao” specifically means “Goodbye”, and the urgency of your goodbye is heightened if you triple or quadruple the word. “Ciao ciao ciao ciao” translates to “Gotta go, I’m in a hurry!”
Allora! Now you have the scoop on the word “Ciao!” “Adesso devo scappare!” (And now it’s time for me run!) Ciao ciao ciao ciao CiAAaaOooooOo!
For additional language learning tips and suggestions, visit the Studentessa Matta website at www.studentessamatta.com. Click on the tab “Learning Ways to Improve your Italian” and you will find more learning resources, websites, YouTube channels, blogs, books, and music ideas to spark your interest and help you practice Italian.
All images created and provided by Author (Melissa Muldoon)
Ciao, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Ciao&oldid=625321524 (last visited Sept. 23, 2014).