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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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    It's the same meaning as English phrase 'break a leg'. Ex: >Ada: 'I'll have an exam today', >Bob: 'Brake a leg!' >Ada: 'Oggi ho un esame' >Bob: 'In bocca al lupo' >(Ada: 'Crepi' - lit.: Death to it) – DDS Nov 23 '17 at 9:42
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    @DDS I converted your post to a comment, because it doesn't answer the question, which is about the origin of the idiom, rather than its meaning. – egreg Nov 23 '17 at 12:33
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    This is a typical cultural situation. Italians being highly sophisticated, hate to be reminded of obvious things. Clearly everyone wishes others good luck in many situations, Italians don't like to call on luck (if you call or wish from something it might not happen at all). So, if you wish someone good luck you are in a sense making it go away. So guys in bocca al lupo to you all... – Lucas Pescarmona Nov 29 '17 at 20:09
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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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You are wishing the hunter to shoot the wolf in the mouth, that his aim is true, and, therefore, the wolf dies. If you hit him somewhere else, you might not be so lucky.

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    This is an interesting hypothesis. Do you have any source to support it? – Denis Nardin May 12 '18 at 18:30
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I think it goes back to the founding of Rome fables. Romululus and Remus, orphans raised ferally by a she wolf as her own pups. "Go in the mouth of your wolf mother. She will protect you". The idiom has evolved over a few millennia to mean, simply, good luck. I think the "negative" connotations, meant tongue in cheek, developed from the inevitable misinterpretations of oral histories.

I am new to this delightful exchange, so please accept my groping attempts to communicate.

My only source is a couple from outside Verona. They visited my family in the u.s. around 1981. Wonderful people, Angelo and Adela. They own a vineyard and winery there. Her family was from the environs of Roma for a very long time, centuries.

I have no other citations nor references. It just seems right to me. Logical and plausible. The lack of literary sources and the gender issue of "lupo/lupa" are perfectly valid. I just don't know.

But without any hard evidence of origin, the nurturing, protective version is preferable to me over the snarling, ravenous, near escape from a gruesome death scenario.

Purely an emotional response I'm sure.

I hope someone with more resources and better Italian can find something more, but in the meantime I'll cling to my kinder, sweeter version.

And besides, it still means what it means.

Boca lupo(a) mi amici...

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    Welcome to Italian.SE! Do you have any source of this interpretation? – Charo Nov 22 '17 at 12:17
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    If an idiom has evolved over a few millennia, there should be trace of it in literature; any source for a Latin origin? Besides, why should it be “lupo“ instead of “lupa“? Latin had the feminine lupa. – egreg Nov 23 '17 at 10:06
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    I understand your emotional conviction, but we aim at collecting here verifiable answers, supported by actual sources (not something a delightful person told you a long time ago, albeit intense for you personally). It would be a bit improbable that this explanation was missed by all written sources, and just survived through Adela's ancestors. – DaG Nov 26 '17 at 9:25
  • I am no scholar and have few resources for real research. I was merely offering an alternative possibility for the etymology of the phrase. – user4016 Nov 27 '17 at 17:47
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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! – Sharon Apr 23 '14 at 11:01
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    This seems to be an "animalist" kind of thinking that is gaining traction in the latest years, and I cannot find a source that supports this idea and is older than a few years. – Federico Oct 30 '17 at 16:20
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    @JohnWolf Do you have references? This seems hard to reconcile with the traditional response (Crepi!) – Denis Nardin Feb 20 '18 at 7:29
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    @JohnWolf Welcome to Italian.SE. This is not a forum, but a “question and answers” site. Answers are not for discussion such as endorsing an existing answer. I converted your post to a comment. – egreg Feb 20 '18 at 9:39
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"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
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    @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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When we were visiting Rome and during a tour of the Roman Forum conducted by a university professor, he told us that the expression "in Bocca al Lupa" or in the mouth of the wolf originated from the founding of Rome. Romulus and Remus were suckled and protected by the she-wolf who took her pups in her mouth for protection. Thus the expression meant, may you be protected or be safe.

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    The problems with this answer, as for the other ones already relating the same version, are that, first, they give hearsay as they unique source and, second, that they conflict with the fact that the standard answer is "Crepi!" ("May it die!"), which hardly would be appropriate for a caring, motherly creature. – DaG Apr 21 '18 at 20:47

protected by Community May 17 '18 at 7:24

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