Used to express greeting or farewell.
[Italian, from dialectal ciau, alteration of Italian (sono vostro) schiavo, (I am your) servant, from Medieval Latin sclavus, slave, servant; see SLAVE.]
Word History: The Italian salutation ciao, which is now popular in many parts of the world outside Italy, originated in the dialects of northern Italy. In the dialect of Venice, ciau literally means "servant, slave," and is also used as a casual greeting, "I am your servant." Dialectal ciau corresponds to standard Italian schiavo, "slave," and both words come from Medieval Latin sclāvus. Declaring yourself someone's slave might seem like an extravagant gesture today, but expressions such as Your obedient servant or Your servant, madam were once commonplace in English. Similarly, the Classical Latin word servus meaning "slave" is still used as an informal greeting in southern Germany and in Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and other parts of central Europe that were formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the opposite end of the world, in Southeast and East Asia, one even finds words that originally meant "slave" or "your slave" but have developed into pronouns of the first person through their use in showing respect and humility. In Japanese, for example, the word boku is used to mean "I, me," especially by boys and young men, and it comes from a Middle Chinese word meaning "slave" or "servant" and now pronounced pú in Mandarin.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
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