In bocca al lupo, which literally translates as in the mouth of the wolf, is a very common greeting in Italian addressed to those in need of buona fortuna (good luck) such as, for example, someone about to embark on a risky endeavour or a student about to take an important exam.
Much like the English equivalent break a leg, the idiom reflects a superstition in which directly wishing a person good luck would actually be considered bad luck. For this reason, the habit of saying something negative emerged instead.
What’s important to remember is that if someone wishes you in bocca al lupo, it is best to use the standard response crepi il lupo (lit: may the wolf die) or, more commonly, crepi (lit: may it die).
Is it possible to respond with grazie (thank you) instead? Yes, but be aware that doing so might reverse your good fortune! 😉
In bocca al lupo per domani! – Crepi il lupo!
Good luck tomorrow! – Thanks!
Break a leg tomorrow! – Thanks!
Another possible response that has recently grown in popularity is Viva il lupo! (May the wolf live!) Many prefer this expression because of the increasing awareness surrounding animal rights and protection.
Did you know that?
The expression originates from the hunting world, where hunters wished in bocca al lupo to their comrades so that they would not end up being eaten by a wolf!
Another similar expression, albeit more vulgar is in culo alla balena, which translates as in the ass of the whale. According to albanesi.it, the phrase may come from the biblical tales of Jonah, who was swallowed by a big fish and vomited three days later following intense prayers.
Here as well there is a specific response to give, which is no less vulgar: Speriamo che non caghi! (Let’s hope it doesn’t poo!).