• ciao •
Part of Speech: Interjection
Meaning: Today's Good Word is a casual greeting ('hello' or 'good-bye') used throughout Continental Europe and, to a lesser degree, in North and South America.
Notes: Today's Good Word greeting gives the speaker a bit of a continental flair, a little pizzazz. It can also be taken to be a bit snooty if not used with care, especially if accompanied by that funny Italian wave with the back of the fingers. However, it is a sparkling break from the humdrum of "Hi!" and "Howayah?"
In Play: The really nice thing about ciao is that you can say it coming and going: "It gives me the creeps when Freddie says 'ciao' with that backward hand wave when he arrives and leaves." Don't think that someone using this greeting is asking for food just because it sounds like chow. It does imply a rather elevated style: "Well, I didn't know that you were a literary critic. I'm sure you'll want to say 'ciao' to everyone before you leave."
Word History: Today's Good Word emerged first in English in Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms in 1929. It is a reduction of Italian schiavo "servant" from an older phrase sono vostro schiavo "I am your servant". Schiavo comes from Medieval Latin sclavus "slave, servant". (In southern Germany, Austria, and neighboring countries the Classical Latin word for "slave", servus, is widely used as a casual "hello" or "good-bye".) Latin sclavus "slave" was borrowed from Greek sklabos "Slav", referring to one of the Slavic peoples, such as Russians, Poles, and Czechs. This explains why our words slave and Slav are so similar. This sordid prejudice survived in Europe until as recently as World War II. (Before we say "ciao" to the month of June, we should thank Gianni Tamburini sharing this Good Word from his native language with us.)
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