'Nazdar' and 'čauzr' – a brief history of Czech greetings from past to present

Ways to say hello or goodbye have changed in Czechia through time, and new expressions continue to evolve today.

Thomas Smith

Written by Thomas Smith Published on 24.11.2022 15:05:00 (updated on 25.11.2022) Reading time: 3 minutes

Even those with a basic understanding of Czech will be familiar with some of the country's most commonly used informal greetings: “Ahoj,” “nazdar,” and “čau.” But where do those phrases come from and how are they used today?

In a recent interview with iDnes.cz linguist Martin Šemelík discusses the evolution of Czech written and verbal greetings. He notes that the proliferation of technology has meant written greetings (and messages in general) have become less formal in Czechia, as speed now trumps politeness. He adds that Czechs are “not very creative” in their ideas of new greetings many of which come from other languages.

With "World Hello Day" celebrated earlier this week on Nov. 21, we explored the origins of Czech greetings and farewells and some of the new expressions that are used today.

Greetings from times past

History tells us that Czech greetings have changed drastically over the last century. During the communist period, for example, it was common for some people to greet one another with “čest práci,” (literally meaning honor of work). Going further back, non-verbal greetings were also more common: the practice in the first half of the 20th century of a man greeting a woman with a kiss on the hand is now nearly obsolete.

In the 1990s the moderator of a popular Czech music program opened the show with the greeting “Chágo bélo,” which soon became commonplace in public, but today is seldom heard. As foreign influence made its way to the Czech Republic, phrases like “hezký den” (“have a nice day”) were thought to come from the UK or U.S. The greeting "skol," sometimes used by Czech skiers, originates from Sweden.

Times have changed and so have greetings

So how do Czechs greet each other these days? A search of Neologismy.cz, a database of newly added words to Czech diction, shows a range of new greetings or farewell phrases have entered the lexicon.

According to iDnes.cz, “páček,” “páčulínek,” and “papík,” have all recently begun to be used as a way to say goodbye, deriving from the Czech farewell of “papa.” “Čauzr” has been formed from the Czech “čau” greeting and Czechs have used their adoption of the German “tschüss” (meaning goodbye) to create “čusik.”

"Zdárek párek" has also recently been created from "nazdar," to the amusement of Czech school kids.

Where do Czech greetings come from?

  • Czech etymologists believe the Czech greeting “ahoj” comes from English seafarers using “hoy” or “ahoy” in the 18th century. Despite living in a landlocked country, Czechs still came into frequent contact with sailors who used Bohemia’s rivers for trade.
  • The Czech “čau” comes from the Italian greeting or farewell of “ciao.” Use of the term experienced a boom after the Italian film “Wide Blue Road” was shown in Czechoslovakia in the late 1950s.
  • The Czech greeting “nazdar” (literally meaning to the success) was popularized in the mid-19th century. A large fundraising campaign for the Czech National Theater coined the term “Na zdar Národního divadla” (“to the success of the National Theatre”), from which “nazdar” began to be used.

Written language is aso more informal

Nowadays, Šemelík says there is a tendency to write “Dobrý den” (Good day) in correspondence rather than the traditional "Vážení“ (Dear esteemed). In some cases, a greeting is omitted altogether. 

A similar informality has begun to apply to greetings in person. Greeting a stranger or someone with whom you are not too familiar with a causal “Ahoj” is something that 100 years ago would have been deemed inappropriate, though Šemelík infers that today this is deemed more universal and acceptable.

For English speakers left in doubt about the correct way to greet a Czech, this international initiative tells us it's completely ok to just #sayhi.

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