In bocca la lupo is an expression that divides Italy in a half. It is used by everyone, everywhere and at any time, yet some believe that saying it brings misfortune on the person to whom we say it, unless a specific answer is given. We’re complicated people, we Italians, especially when it comes to bad omens and scaramanzia.
But one thing at a time, so let us start from its meaning.
In bocca la lupo means, literally, “in a wolf’s mouth,” which we could easily associate with the idea of being eaten alive by the voracious, furry beast. But of course, we’d never wish anyone to be devoured by a wild animal, that is, unless they insulted our mother, stole our boyfriend (or girlfriend) or said our soccer national team sucks.
In bocca al lupo is a way to wish someone the best of luck, when they are about to embark in what is perceived as a difficult or complex endeavor: an exam in university, a first day at work, anything hard to face or can create stress, really. Our beloved Accademia della Crusca tells us that the expression has a clearly apotropaic function “able to exorcise misfortune through its magical connotation.” Apparently, the expression was initially used among hunters — it does make sense — only to expand to all situations considered difficult at a later stage.
Interestingly, the expression comes with an answer, too. And this is where scaramanzia takes over. You see, when someone says in bocca al lupo to you, you have to answer quickly crepa! (“may it croak!”), unless you want catastrophe and failure sail your way. Saying crepa! is crucial, my friends: never forget it! To be very, very honest, there is an alternative expression you could use, but it’s pretty colorful — maybe a tad too much! — so you may just ask an Italian friend to tell you about it: let us just say that whales are involved!
Allora domani hai l’esame di diritto? In bocca al lupo!
So, your Law exam is tomorrow? Good Luck!
In bocca al lupo per quel progetto. E’ piuttosto impegnativo, ma sono sicuro che ce la farai.
Good luck for that project. It’s pretty difficult but I am sure you’ll do just fine.
Partecipi alla tua prima maratona quest'anno? Beh.. in bocca al lupo!
Are running your first marathon this year? Well… good luck with that!