Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

Ciao: Italy’s World Cup greeting to the world

Ciao: Italy’s World Cup greeting to the world
It’s one of the most used words in Italy. Ciao – pronounced ‘chow’ – has many uses. From an informal hello, hi or hey to a friendly so long, farewell, or goodbye, ciao is a word Italians use many times a day.

There are, as ever with the etymology of words, a couple of theories of its origin. In medieval times, there was the word ‘clāru’, which meant ‘the hope of a bright day’, the words chiao and chialo became variations of this, eventually turning into ciao. But there is also a slightly darker theory of ciao’s origins.

Some believe, the word comes from the Venetian phrase s-ciào vostro or s-ciào su, meaning "I am your slave". This evolved to mean ‘at your service’ and eventually became ‘ciao’. It’s a word increasingly used the world over, though generally outside Italy, used to mean goodbye more often than hello.

When Italy hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1990 and had to come up with a name for their mascot to welcome fans, as a simple greeting, Ciao seemed like the perfect choice. Every soccer world cup has a different mascot, each with a strong link to the host nation. From the jalapeño sombrero-wearing Mexican, Seville orange and British lion, to the German Bear and French Rooster. But when it came to Italy 1990, the choice of Mascot was a little more abstract. Ciao was a very modern mascot, a stickman made from Italian tricolor flags with a soccer ball for a head. Just don’t accuse Ciao of ‘Avere la testa nel pallone’.