Italian Idiom of the Week–In bocca al lupo!


Ecco la frase idiomatica della settimana = Here’s your weekly Italian Idiom, brought to you by Italiano With Jodina:

In bocca al lupo!

Literally, this means “in the wolf’s mouth” and is used to wish someone luck, as with “buona fortuna.”  In bocca al lupo is similar to the expression, “Break a leg,” except that it’s used in any situation, not just in acting or performance settings.

There is also a response sometimes used when someone tells you “in bocca al lupo,” and that is, “crepi il lupo” — literally meaning “may the wolf kick the bucket.” It would be like saying, “Yes, when I put my head in the wolf’s mouth, may it drop dead” (rather than biting my head off!) . . . a metaphor for coming out on top in the face of a difficult or challenging situation.

Have a great week, and in bocca al lupo!

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18 Responses to Italian Idiom of the Week–In bocca al lupo!

  1. Grande! finalmente svelato in inglese il mistero della bocca del Lupo.. ci metto sempre delle ore per spiegare l’idioma.. ora, grazie a te, posso smplicemente dire.. visita Italiano With Jodina

  2. admin says:

    Ne sono contento! Here’s something we say in English to wish someone good luck with a performance (actors, singers, speakers, etc): “Break a leg!” Language is so crazy, but fun!

  3. marianne ricci-wilson says:

    i used to hear my parents say, “manca le cani”. i think that’s it….forse, no? i thought it might mean not even the dogs….perhaps: who would eat that gross stuff?…not even dogs would. love your site, marianna ricci-wilson

  4. admin says:

    Ciao Marianna~
    Thanks for the compliment — glad you enjoy the site! That’s my mission 🙂
    Yes, I’ve heard this phrase as ‘manco i cani’ in the area of Milan. It’s said slightly different ways in different regions of Italy. And you’re right on the meaning… even a dog wouldn’t eat that, or you wouldn’t even treat a dog like that. In standard Italian it’s ‘Neanche ai cani…’

  5. Larry Aiello says:

    That is such weird expression to mean good luck, isn’t it? I think it comes from the fortune a wolf has after he captured a prey.


  6. admin says:

    Ciao Larry,
    infatti (in fact) it is an odd expression to say “good luck”… but that’s idioms for you… consider the English expression “break a leg”!

  7. admin says:

    Ciao Larry!
    It is like saying to someone who has to go to do something very difficult or challenging “good luck”. The wolf is like the challenging thing, and you have to face it head on (or put your head in it). The reply to In bocca al lupo is “Crepi il lupo” or just simply “Crepi”– which is saying that “May the wolf keel over (rather than eat your head) and therefore wishing you a successful outcome, aka “Good luck”!

  8. Rooey says:

    I thought you might like to know where “break a leg” comes from: at the end of a play, they drop the theatre curtain and then raise it again for the actors to come out and take a bow (called a “curtain call”). The curtains were weighed down at the bottom with little wooden blocks (called feet) to make the curtain hang straight. The idea was that if the play was REALLy good; the audience would applaud the actors so much they’d have to take lots of “curtain calls” and the curtain would come up and down so much it would break one of the “legs” attaching the little wooden feet to the curtain! Not quite as weird when you understand the meaning!
    I always thought “in bocca al lupo” must come from the little red riding hood story (I can’t remember what it’s called in Italian) – but i don’t know why i thought that. I bet it has a good explanation anyway!

  9. admin says:

    What a cool story — I’ve done plays myself and used the phrase “break a leg” and had no idea of the origin.
    When I hear “in bocca al lupo” it conjures up an image of a lion tamer type of situation, except that it’s a wolf, and the tamer has to go inside the mouth, and the wish is that it will drop dead rather than bite the tamer’s head off!

  10. Irene says:

    Ciao jodina,
    ma la traduzione esatta di “keel over” quale sarebbe? Perché “crepi” vuol dire semplicemente morire…

  11. admin says:

    Ciao Irene,
    ho usato “keel over” piuttosto che “die” perche’ crepare in italiano e’ una parola molto piu’ popolare che morire che ha anche i seguenti traduzioni: to croak, to pop off, to kick the bucket, to peg out, to snuff it. Crepa! is like saying “drop dead!”

  12. patricia malatesta says:

    Ciao. My cousin who grew up in Mosciano Sant’Angelo in Abruzzo says that one wishes someone a good journey by saying in bocca al lupo.

  13. ermanno says:

    By the way Little Red Riding Hood is translated Cappuccetto Rosso in italian.

    I have heard of different explanations for the In bocca al lupo idiom. One is that mother wolf protects her pups by picking them up with her mouth and moving them from one place to another, hence symbolizing protection. So being in the mouth of the wolf wouldn’t be such a bad thing!

  14. Jodina says:

    Ciao Ermanmno, this is very interesting. I haven’t heard this before, and I like it a lot… un augurio of protection in the face of something challenging… but then we still have the common reply of “Crepi il lupo” that still sees the poor wolf dying! A the richness of language and humans who create it — proprio affascinante!

  15. Gino Gerard Thomas says:

    very good info and comments. i’m an actor, and have loved the expression in bocca al lupo. just recently learned about crepi. grazie. gino

  16. Valentina says:

    Quoto Ermanno..!

    Credo che poi nel tempo, si sia un po’ perso il significato originale, fino a fraintendere totalmente il detto, ed arrivare alla risposta “crepi il lupo”.

    Mia madre risponde sempre “grazie!”

  17. Jeanie says:

    Thank you for this most useful and unique way to wish people well in performing. I have never liked using “break a leg,” for concert performers. “In bocca al lupo,” is my new favorite!

  18. Layo says:

    I spent a couple of years in Rome and I was told that ‘in bocca al lupo’ referred to the wolf who rescued the infants, Romulus and Remus, who were supposedly the founders of Rome. Hence, ‘going into something that appears threatening, but finding unexpected good fortune’.

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