The other day I discovered that the Hungarian word szia [sijɑ], which is used as a informal hello and goodbye, like ciao in Italian and ahoj in Czech and Slovak, possibly comes from the English expression ‘see you’ / ‘see ya’, at least that’s what a Hungarian friend believes. I hadn’t noticed the similarity between the two phrases before, and if I had, I would have assumed that it was a coincidence.

Another possible origin for this word is the Austria greeting/parting word servus, which is written szervusz in Hungarian, and which somehow became szia. This is the etymology given by Zaicz Gábor in the Etimológiai szótár (Etymology Dictionary) according to this discussion.

Does anybody know more about the origins of this word?

6 thoughts on “Szia

  1. I don’t know anything about the origins of szia but I love to use it when I’m saying goodbye to English speakers, as it’s a bit of stealth-Hungarian that they don’t usually realise has slipped into the conversation.

    My other favourite Hungarian greeting is hallo. Like szia, this can be used at either end of a conversation; in this case, it’s certainly a borrowing from English. Although, before I visited Hungary, I had read about the custom, I was still somewhat surprised the first time I was chatting to a Hungarian and he finished by saying hello to me as he took his leave!

  2. Both the old and the new edition of the Magyar Értelmező kéziszótár agrees with the second etimology you give, namely that “szia” comes from the greeting “szevasz” which comes from “szervusz”.

    I cannot be completely sure, I also think this is the real etimology. “Szia” was used as a greeting already in the seventies (it appears in books), likely even earlier, and “szervusz” is similarly old. At that time, Hungarian didn’t get as many English borrowings as now, because of the iron curtain.

  3. I _knew_ I saw this etimology mentioned somewhere, but I was looking in the wrong book. Szilágyi Ferenc, *Fejtsünk szót*, (Nemzeti Tankönyvkiadó, 1993) a popular science book about etimology, claims on page 75 that “szia” is obviously derived from “szevasz” which is from “szervusz”. This doesn’t count as an independent confirmation of course, but it at least shows that a professional does find this etimology not obviously bogus.

  4. I would transcribe it as /siɒ/ instead, though I do admit that there may be a hint of /j/ there sometimes. It’s really up to the speaker. In standard Hungarian there are no diphthongs and consecutive vowels are often linked by a hint of a /j/ in speech to make it clear that they belong to separate syllables. (Otherwise the standard is the exception, local dialects do typically have diphthongs. Just a bit of fact that language books won’t tell you.) Also note the /ɑ/ vs /ɒ/.

    Szia may indeed sound very similar to the English (American?) see ya!, but as others have said, it definitely doesn’t come from see ya.

  5. I don’t know about the Hungarian word, but I came to think of the Swedish informal greeting tja [ɕa] which looks as if it could be related to Italian ciao, but in fact is derived from tjänare meaning ‘servant’, i.e. similar to szervusz.

  6. Maybe szia came from szervusz as most think. But the hallo/hello, imported later from english to use as both hi and bye (which has even spawned the infinitive hellozni) suggests that a similar influence may have trickled in from “see ya”. Something like that must lie behind csá from ciao, which in turn came from “I am your humble servant/slave servus/sclavus”.

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