Pozdravi:Part 1

Greetings Part 1: Hello!

Zdravo, Dobar Dan, Ciao/Ćao, Bok, Hej, Šta ima

[Certain words can be used as a hello and a goodbye: zdravo, ciao, bok]

Greetings: the opening to a conversation or at the very least our way of acknowledging someone’s presence. Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, I’ve learned that there are several options when it comes to greeting someone and can usually vary in terms of who you are speaking to. [BiH=Bosnia-Herzegovina]

Zdravo /ʐɗɾɑⱱɔ/    of Slavic Origin

For me, this has been a greeting I have rarely used and have rarely come across. It is used quite often in BiH. Zdravo, in the context of greeting someone does mean hello, however it is also the word for healthy. (neutral gender) So it’s almost like a way of wishing someone good health. It is quite interesting to note that the word which means greeting(s) is pozdrav, carrying the word zdrav (masc. gender). I’m not if there is any connection. [I’ll touch on this word, pozdrav at the end of part II] This greeting was commonly used throughout former Yugoslavia but once the country split up and several official languages formed out of ex-Yu’s standardized language, zdravo became less used but is still understood and used throughout the region. The word is Slavic in origin, and has its root in the word used for health though it is thought to have originated from the Christian associated phrase Zdravo Marijo/Hail Mary.


Dobar Dan /ɗoɓɑɽ ɗɑɲ/    of Slavic Origin

This is quite fun to hear this translation because it reminds me of the British for some reason. Good Day! We don’t really greet anyone like this anymore unless we are being silly or maybe portraying some character. Or maybe it’s just more commonly heard in the UK and Australia. I think of Good Day, sir! or Good Day Mate! As for American English, I believe we only use it in good jest and don’t regularly use the phrase. If anyone knows more about the phrase in English, let me know. (and if you know of any site about its history) Here in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as Croatia, Serbia and Montenegro, (Good Day) Dobar Dan is a common greeting. But the question is ‘when does the day start?’ I have heard someone say Dobar Dan as early as 10. But it is most commonly understood that the day starts around 11am and ends around 5, 6, or 7pm depending on the season. Then you can start to use good evening until it’s nighttime. This particular greeting is one of those used more often in formal situations; when you greet someone you don’t know like a store clerk or maybe to an elder or anyone older than you. [It is perfectly fine if you greet friends and family like this as well] Good Morning is Dobro Jutro and Good Evening is Dobro Veče or Dobra večer. Nightime: you are probably saying good night, laku noć (which literally translates ‘easy night’). But if you’re out late, you probably are with friends and will be informal. Those informal greetings I’d like to address include Ciao/Ćao, Bok, Hej*, Šta ima. However, each one deserves its own little paragraph.


Ciao/Ćao [the first spelling is Italian, the second is Croatian/Bosnian]  /tʃau/

This word originates from Venetian and developed like this: schiavo – schiao – sciao – ciao

A very familiar phrase to people throughout the world, this Italian word has become a very common greeting for many. Geographically it makes sense how Croatian and Bosnian picked up this phrase. It does to tend to be used more in the region closest to the coast which is separated from Italy by the Adriatic Sea. As an informal phrase, it is used to greet friends, family and sometimes colleagues. However, it can also be used to address anyone younger or among youth despite whether they know each other or not. I have noticed that sometimes store clerks use the informal phrase, but with those are young or familiar (small stores allow them to get to know some regular customers). As for my personal experience, I have spent the majority of my time in an environment that is not strict in any way and therefore more common to hear ciao. This greeting is one of the rare ones in which I have heard people use it in a repetitive manner: ciao ciao. It’s like someone is saying hello and goodbye in the same moment and is quite common for someone to say this when passing a friend in the street.

In 18th century Venice the word schiavo meant slave, or servant. It was used as an expression by servants/slaves to address their (master), a way of showing subservience, humility, respect. It has been loosely translated as ‘I am your slave.’ It was a way of defining a clear class distinction on the social ladder but a few centuries later it became a greeting among friends. The older Italian word schiavo came from Medieval Latin sclāvus, also meaning slave.


Bok/Bog  /ɓɔk/ /ɓɔg/

In present day, these informal greetings are considered to be Croatian, associated with Croatia but are still used in some parts of BiH. Bok originated as a greeting during the era of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. It may be helpful to know that the languages of the empire were many (German, Hungarian and various other smaller (based off speaker %) languages, but the ruling powers primarily used Hungarian. The most common greetings during that time were grüß Gott (German) or servus). Throughout the internet, various stories on the origin of the word bok have been tossed around without much concrete evidence. It isn’t confirmed anywhere that there is one true story, so I will share the few that I found. One common story was that it originated from the altering of pronunciation of a Austrian greeting used in the Austro-Hungarian era; mein buecken. Those in Zagreb (capital in present day Croatia) and surrounding areas would pronounce this phrase as majn bokn or moj naklon; these over time shortened to bokn and naklon. And the greeting bokn thus shortened to bok. Others have said that it may have come from the German word, Bücken which means stooping, or bending down/over, or that it came from the Hungarian word bók meaning compliment or praise. Yet another source that emphasizes the fact that the origin is unclear, and how bog is another greeting and has been associated with the possible origin of bok. (But says there is no evidence supporting this) This source goes on to mention the fact that there are pronunciation changes that vary by region in Croatia; some use g instead of k at the end of some words and vice versa. And that the word boh is an older version of the greeting bog. For me, it is really interesting that the word bog is a greeting at all because it is also the word that means god/God. That would also be one reason why some people think that the greeting bok should not be used, because of its association with the word bog. Maybe I could explore the origin of the word for god (bog) and not as a greeting in some other post. I personally remember the bok greeting from one of the cartoons I watched while learning the languages of this region; Pocoyo. This little cartoon for kids is in several languages, including Croatian and therefore the greeting at the beginning and goodbye at the end is Bok, Pocoyo! (main character’s name) This particular research has reminded me of how wonderfully complex language is and how easy it is to form new words and perpetuate untruths. The languages Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian and Montenegrin all formed more officially as separate languages when Yugoslavia split up. And now, many linguists and common people of each language are creating ways in which to make their language as different as they can from the others. Many of these attempts are resulting from their desire to disassociate with others who identify with a different ethnicity or religion. A lot of pride and nationalist mentality still remain in this region and can be seen through some acts of language standardization. This could be a whole other blog post.


Šta ima? Što ima?  Origin–uncertain

What’s up? In English, this is a quite a new greeting and much more common among the younger generations. In Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia, šta ima is the common phrase while što ima is more commonly heard in Croatia. This is simply because Croatian tends to use što instead of šta which are the words that mean what. The literal translation of šta ima (or što ima) is something to the effect of what is there? what does one have? The word ima is the he/she/it verb conjugation of imati, which means to have. The question šta ima can also mean exactly what it’s asking; what is there? šta ima u kutiji? what’s in the box? As a greeting, it is informal and commonly used among good friends. The question can be rhetorical just like the English what’s up, but sometimes one can give some kind of response. You could explain everything that’s going on in your life (hardly anyone does that) or you could just say what’s new with you and if someone really wants to know what’s new, they’d probably ask šta ima novo? (what’s new?) The most common response is ništa (nothing) and sometimes one could say svašta (everything!). A funny response I learned that people will jokingly answer with is sjedi da ti ispričam (sit down and I’ll tell you (everything)).

One other question we might ask our friends and use as a greeting is how’s it going? kako ide? 

*Hej (Hey)

Since I am addressing Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian greetings, I won’t talk about this “greeting”. Just wanted to mention that it is also heard in this part of the world (Southeast Europe), usually among friends and often followed by the greeting addressed above, Šta ima? Hej, šta ima?

A couple other greetings that are similar to what’s up are đe si ? and inače? I’ll address them in a separate post.

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