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The word "ciao" (//; Italian pronunciation: [ˈtʃaːo]) is an informal Italian verbal salutation or greeting, meaning either "hello", "hi", "goodbye", or "bye". 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" in English language, but in modern Italian and in other languages it may mean "hello" or "goodbye", similar to the word shalom in Hebrew, salaam in Arabic, namaste in Hindi, annyeong in Korean, or aloha in Hawaiian. The Vietnamese word chào ("hello" or "goodbye"), while similar-sounding, is unrelated etymologically.
The word derives from the Venetian phrase s-ciào vostro or s-ciào su literally meaning "I am your slave". This greeting is analogous to the medieval 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 of "at your service" in English). The Venetian word for "slave", s-ciào ([ˈstʃao]) or s-ciàvo, derives from Medieval Latin sclavus, deriving from the ethnic "Slavic", since most of the slaves came from the Balkans.
This greeting was eventually shortened to ciào, lost all its servile connotations and came to be used as an informal salutation by speakers of all classes. In modern Venetian and Lombard language, as well as in regional Lombard Italian, the word (s-ciào in Venetian, s'ciao in Lombard, ciao in Italian) is used (in addition to the meaning of salutation) as an exclamation of resignation (also in a positive sense), as in Oh, va be', ciao! ("Oh, well, never mind!"). A Milanese proverb/tongue-twister says Se gh'hinn gh'hinn; se gh'hinn nò, s'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 (spelled 'chau' and only meaning 'bye') 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 "adiós," with its religious implications, for many young people. 'Ciao' has also permeated Australian culture, becoming a popular greeting among descendants of Italian immigrants.
In contemporary Italian usage, ciao is interchangeable for both an informal hello and goodbye, much like aloha in Hawaiian, salām in Arabic, shalom in Hebrew or annyeong in Korean. In Italy, ciao is mainly used in informal contexts, i.e. among family members, relatives, friends, in other words, with those one would address with the familiar tu (second person singular) as opposed to Lei (courtesy form); in these contexts, ciao is the norm even as a morning or evening salutation, in lieu of buon giorno or buona sera, deemed too formal among friends, relatives, or the very familiar. When used in other contexts, ciao may be interpreted as slightly flirtatious, or a request for friendship or closeness.
In other languages, ciao has come to have more specific meanings. The following list summarizes the spelling and uses of salutations derived from ciao in various languages and countries.
In some languages, such as Latvian, the vernacular version of ciao has become the most common form of informal salutation.
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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 some countries of Latin America, they use 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!".
In all these cases, however, the special meaning is conferred more by the vocal inflection than by the modified use.