I always cringe whenever I see the latest advertisement sporting English words. I walk into my bank and find them advertising a M'Honey account, replete with a jar of honey - as if any of their 2+ million pensioners would even know that honey = miele and what either of the terms have to do with money (maybe it rhymes? at least in English). The Telecoms cos. are no worse off: you can now go to VodafoneYOU or open a TIM Young package. I often wonder if any of the customers even know what the words mean. Adverts aside, I do now get a kick whenever I hear Italians answer each other with a resounding "Yes" - just for emphasis.
But if I had to pinpoint any single word, it's "Ciao" that has taken the world by a storm.
Everyone uses Ciao seemingly everywhere. Little did I know that it was handed down from the Venetian Republic, and meant pretty much the opposite of what we would ever think its meaning would be: s-ciào su literally meaning, "I am your slave". The closest thing I think that comes to this is the original meaning of the Hindi Namaste = I bow to you.
And while Wikipedia indicates that it was Ernest Hemingway who first introduced it into the English lexicon, I would suppose that Italian immigrants were saying it long before that happened (1929). But it was probably not until the 1960s when Jerry Vale crooned with his big hit that people started using it, with gusto.
In any case, not only could you once find a Ciao eatery in Italy, you can now find one as far away as Kuala Lampur or read from Ciao! an Australian trendy rag, or even watch a love story movie about two gay men. But you really know Ciao has gone mainstream in the USA, following in the footsteps of pasta and cappuccino, when a restaurant in downtown Scottsdale, Arizona is called Cowboy Ciao Restaurant. Incredibly, this establishment even poses the WTH question on their very own web page -- asking why they would call themselves in this way, when they offer up good American "eclectic" cooking. According to their website, one reviewer called it Addams Family meets Old West bordello...As they say back in Northern Italy, "Ciao" indeed.*
*From Wikipedia: The word ciào is still used in Venetian and in the Lombard language as an exclamation of resignation, as in Oh, va be', ciào ("Oh, well, never mind!").