Good luck is something we say so much in English. We use it before a big exam, when heading out to buy toilet paper pre-covid19 lockdown and basically in any situation that might come up in our day to day lives. In Italian instead, it’s used a bit less frequently, and not as often used sarcastically like we do in English. Plus if you consider the literal translation of good luck, “buona fortuna” it’s actually considered unlucky to wish upon someone! So how do you say good luck without saying, literally, good luck? In bocca al lupo!
Have you ever heard someone say this strange phrase? You may have heard in bocca al lupo once or twice, or even tried to translate it as “in the mouth of the wolf” and wondered what the heck anyone was talking about. Even more confusing, is the ubiquitously uttered reply of “crepi.”
In italian, in bocca al lupo, is sort of a reverse good luck charm, a bit like saying “break a leg” in English. If you wish someone the worst, then the opposite will happen, which is precisely why “buona fortuna” is hardly ever used in well wishing.
Its thought that “in bocca al lupo” originated with hunters, before they went out on a wolf hunt. Just like you say break a leg before taking the stage, hunters were wished to be taken into the jaws of a wolf. The standard reply, crepi, means “may the wolf die.” In that way, the hunter escapes the jaws of the animal and also returns home with fur and food.
Today, its used in everyday situations, not just for hunters and has become a standard part of written and spoken Italian. However, a word of warning, if you’re ever lucky enough to have an Italian wish the mouth of the wolf on you, don’t EVER reply with “grazie!!” Crepi is the only appropriate way to be sure you’re not gobbled up by the metaphorical big bad wolf.