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I know that "in bocca al lupo" means "good luck", but what's its origin and when is it used?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

Let me copy down the (not completely satisfying) relevant entry from Carlo Lapucci, Dizionario dei modi di dire della lingua italiana (Garzanti-Vallardi, 1979):

Oggi [«In bocca al lupo!»] è un augurio che vale: buona caccia! Per i cacciatori tuttavia le due frasi non sono ugualmente gradite, e preferiscono di gran lunga la prima, mentre considerano un grande malaugurio la seconda, di per sé innocentissima. I profani devono fare attenzione. [...] [The phrase refers to] trovarsi faccia a faccia con il loro naturale avversario che è la selvaggina: situazione da cui essi sapranno togliersi uccidendola.
Infatti all'augurio: In bocca al lupo!, il cacciatore compìto risponde: Crepi! (Il lupo è sottinteso).

So, in a sense, you are apparently wishing for a dangerous situation, but implicitly suggesting that your friend will be successful.

I myself do not know any hunter, but «In bocca al lupo!» is used quite frequently before exams, performances, job interviews and the like, while some people (like the hunters of the above quotation) would consider a more straightforward wish to be unlucky.

Compare the above with the English “Break a leg!”

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similar reference also in… – laika Jul 22 '14 at 16:31

No no no no no!!!! All answers are TOTALLY wrong!! Let me explain why! The female of the wolf, when it has her puppies (her 'children'), it use to put them in her mouth to PROTECT them from external attacks. So, when somebody says "in bocca al lupo" it means "I hope you'll receive a protection". So the correct reply is "grazie", that means "thank you (that you want to 'protect' me)! Do you understand?
I'm italian, but also some italians don't know the correct origin of this phrase! Now you know it!

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Could be an interesting interpretation, as in here and here. Any source for that? – user193 Apr 22 '14 at 19:04
Exactly, these sites say the correct thing! – Jamal Alam Apr 23 '14 at 11:01

"in bocca al lupo"(in the mouth of the wolf) is an expression from the novel "Cappuccetto Rosso" (Little Red Riding Hood), in fact you answer "crepi!"(die! referred to the wolf) because the girl manages to kill the wolf with the help of a huntsman instead of being eated

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“Cappuccetto rosso” isn't a novel, it is a fairy tale; the little girl is eaten by the wolf, and the huntsman kills it alone, so saving the child and her grandmother; in no version I know of the words «In bocca al lupo» appear (which character would be supposed to tell them to whom, anyway?). – DaG Apr 16 '14 at 8:11
@DaG sorry, English isn't my mother tongue, I'm Italian... thank you for the corrections! "in bocca al lupo" is a thing we say but it doesn't appear in the fairy tale – adhara99 Apr 17 '14 at 15:23

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