Chow vs. Ciao

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Chow and ciao are two words that are pronounced in the same way when spoken aloud but are spelled differently and have different meanings, which makes them homophones. We will examine the definitions of the words chow and ciao, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

Chow may refer to a Chow Chow dog, which is a muscular breed of dog from China with a broad head, black tongue and a thick, double coat of fur. A chow is generally very protective of his owner, and in northern China, the breed is called Songshi Quan, which translates as “puffy lion-dog”. The word chow is also a slang term for food. It is derived from the Chinese pidgin English, chow-chow, dating from the late 1700s, and means mixed food. Pidgin is a simplified version of a language used by two non-fluent speakers in order to communicate. Pidgin languages have limited structure and vocabulary in order to facilitate communication between two speakers who do not share a common native tongue. Chow is often used in the United States in the expression chow down, a verb phrase meaning to eat. Related terms are chows down, chowed down, chowing down.

Ciao is an informal greeting that is used upon meeting or departing. The consonant letter c in ciao is pronounced as a hard ch as in church, and the vowels iao are pronounced as ow as in owl. Ciao is a loan word from Italian, and the English version follows the Italian pronunciation, more or less. While most English speakers know how to pronounce ciao, many do not know how to spell it. Loanwords and loan phrases are terms that have been taken from other languages and used as English words and phrases. Another term for a loanword is a borrowed word. Loanwords and loan phrases come into the English language when English speakers come into contact with other languages and cultures. When loanwords and loan phrases first enter the English language, they are used by bilingual speakers and usually maintain the original pronunciation from the source language. As other English speakers adopt loanwords and loan phrases, the pronunciation may change to incorporate sounds more in keeping with the English speakers’ accents. A foreign word evolves into a loanword when it is adopted into the vocabulary of the average English speaker, not just English speakers who come into contact with the source language and culture. The word ciao entered the English language in the late 1920s, though its popularity soared in the 1960s when the films of Italian director Federico Fellini became known in the English-speaking world. Ciao is used as an informal way of saying hello or goodbye in English. In Italy, ciào is used exclusively as an informal greeting among friends. Many people who learn to speak Italian use the word ciào inappropriately and should remember that one should not use it when greeting new acquaintances.  The word ciao comes from the Venetian phrase s-ciào vostro or s-ciào su, which translates as “I am your slave.” This is not to be taken literally. The expression is akin to the English phrases “I am your obedient servant,” or “I am at your service.”


Among them are Alexander, a 17-week-old Great Pyrenees, and his brother Abner; Moses, an 18-week-old American Staffordshire terrier-chow chow mix; Whitney, an 18-week-old Siberian husky; and Glory. (The Tennessean)

While monetary donations are at the top of the organization’s Christmas list, there are other items the shelter is hoping Santa (or anyone) brings them, such as Purina Dog Chow, Purina Puppy Chow (without the red pieces) Purina One, Purina Cat Chow, Purina Kitty Chow Complete, canned food dog/puppy, cat/kitten, small cat beds, hidey beds, small fleece blankets, collars, leashes, cleaners, paper towels, toilet paper, high-efficiency laundry soap, Dawn dish soap, large trash bags, copy paper and pens. (The Franklin News Post)

Brooklyn Beckham EXCLUSIVE: Teen and his new girlfriend Hana Cross chow down on noodles as they step out together for a low-key lunch date (The Daily Mail)

His pupils also learned how to say “hello” (ciao) and a little about Italian architecture — Tower of Pisa and Colosseum, the famous amphitheater in the center of Rome. (The Intelligencer)

Say “Hello Google, be my Italian interpreter” and, ciao bella, it’ll start listening, and translating – pronto. (The South China Morning Post)

Enjoyed reading about these homophones? Check out some others we covered: