What does ‘In bocca al lupo’ mean in Italian?

This post talks abouit what does ‘In bocca al lupo!’ means and its origins. We also talk about how you should reply to someone saying this to you.

What does ‘In bocca al lupo’ mean?

In Italian ‘bocca’ means ‘mouth’ and ‘lupo’ means ‘mouth’, therefore:

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

Why would someone say this? Strangely, in Italian it means ‘Good luck’!

Who popularised the saying?

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!’ 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.

What are the origins to the expression?

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’.

How do you respond to someone saying ‘In bocca al lupo’ to you?

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.

Further Information

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