Meaning of In bocca al lupo

By the end of this page you will:

  • Know the meaning of In bocca al lupo! and its origins
  • Understand when to say this phrase to people
  • You will also talk about how to respond to someone saying this to you

What is the meaning of ‘In bocca al lupo’?

In Italian:

  • ‘bocca’ means ‘mouth’
  • ‘lupo’ means ‘mouth’

Therefore:

  • ‘In bocca al lupo’ literally means ‘In (the) mouth of the wolf!’

Strangely, you say ‘In bocca al lupo!’ whenever you wish to wish someone ‘Good luck!

How can it mean ‘Good luck!’?

The saying was popularised by people wanting to wish performers ‘Good luck’ in theatres. 

‘In bocca al lupo’ is said instead of the literal words for ‘Good luck’ (‘Buona Fortuna’) to a performer. Performers believe using the literal words ‘Good luck!’ (Buona fortuna!) would in fact bring bad luck!

In English we use the expression ‘Break a leg!’ for this same reason. ‘Break a leg!’ and ‘In bocca al lupo!’ became popular for performers in a very similar way.

When was ‘In bocca al lupo’ first used? What are its origins?

There are lots of different arguments on the origins of the expression. One such argument is the expression goes back to hunters. The expression ‘In the mouth of the wolf’ probably originates from the idea that hunters would aim for the wolf’s head (i.e. mouth). The expression originally was like saying ‘Have a good hunt’.

This all sounds rather brutal, but understanding the meaning to expressions is important to understanding a language.

You could adapt the expression to saying things luck ‘Good luck for the exam’ (i.e. In bocca al lupo per l’esame). Never say things like ‘Buona fortuna per l’esame’. It just does not sound very natural.

How to respond to ‘In bocca al lupo’?

You respond to this by saying ‘Crepi’ (‘Let him drop dead!’) or ‘Crepi il lupo’ (‘Let the wolf drop dead!’). In the context of hunters, you can understand why they said this.

Do not be tempted to say ‘Grazie’ instead. It would tell the person that you do not know much Italian and would sound a little odd.

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