The word CIAO comes from Venetian dialect, where the phrase s-ciào vostro meant “I am your slave.”
Often, s-ciào vostro was shortened to simply s-ciào and then to ciào. In Latin, the word is sclavus and in standard Italian schiavo, which is where the Venetian s-ciào is derived.
In the 17th century, the term was used by servants when encountering their employer: “I am your slave.”
This transformed into “I am your servant,” used by a person of inferior social status to one of greater importance and finally, to “I’m at your service” when addressing a stranger of one’s own age or older.
It was never used as a casual greeting before the 20th century.
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