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LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Italian expression of the day: ‘In bocca al lupo’

Why say "good luck" when you can use this phrase instead?

Italian expression of the day: 'In bocca al lupo'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Literally translating as “in the wolf's mouth”, this famous Italian phrase is much more interesting to say than “good luck”.

And in some parts of Italy, simply saying buona fortuna (good luck) is sometimes considered to bring the opposite.

Though it may sound a bit dramatic, people in Italy really do use this idiomatic phrase in everyday conversation.

Much like the English “break a leg”, the phrase is used a lot in the theatre. But also when wishing good fortune to someone about to take on a daunting or challenging task – such as sitting an Italian language exam, or visiting the local prefettura.

READ ALSO: Popes, chickens and reheated soup: 15 everyday Italian idioms you need to know

The real confusion though arises over what exactly you're supposed to say in response.

If someone says this phrase to you, the correct response is widely said to be crepi il lupo (may the wolf die), or simply crepi. Many people consider a simpe grazie or thank you as likely to reverse any good fortune.
 
However, in reality, the response may vary.
 
Wolf-related phases rarely have positive connotations in any language (see also: “keep the wolf from the door” in English) and Italian is no exception. The phrase andare nella bocca del lupo, or 'to go into the wolf's mouth' means metaphorically 'to get into trouble'.
 
But a lot of people do tend to respond with a grazie anyway – as not everyone in Italy considers being “in the mouth of the wolf” such a bad thing.
 
Wolves protect their young by carrying them in their mouths, meaning some believe the idea of ending up in a wolf's mouth has positive connotations. And after all, the legend of Romulus and Remus tells us the founders of the ancient city of Rome were saved as babies by a she-wolf.
 
 
This might explain another, more unusual response: evviva il lupo (long live the wolf)!
 
In general though, for non-native Italian speakers the easiest response to in bocca al lupo is still crepi – otherwise you're likely to have a well-meaning Italian try to educate you.
 
And if you want to avoid all this talk of wolves altogether, there's another, somewhat less refined way of wishing someone good luck: 
 
In culo alla balena, which literally means “in the whale's ass”.
 
And that one really does defy explanation.
 

Do you have a favourite Italian word, phrase or expression you'd like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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ITALIAN WORD OF THE DAY

Italian word of the day: ‘Delusione’

We hope this word doesn't disappoint.

Italian word of the day: 'Delusione'

Experiencing a delusione (deh-loo-zee-OH-neh) in Italian may not be pleasant, but it doesn’t mean you need escorting to the psychiatrist’s chair.

That’s because while delusione may look and sound like its English cousin ‘delusion’, the word actually means something quite different: disappointment.

Disappointment Disappointed GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Food Review GIFs

The two nouns actually have the same root in the Latin dēlūsiō, meaning a deceiving or deluding, and delūdō, meaning to deceive, dupe, or mock.

But while the English ‘delusion’ has hewn close to the original Latin meaning over the centuries, delusione at some point branched off to its current, quite different, definition.

There’s not much in the way of information about exactly when and how that happened, but it’s clearly a short associative hop from feeling ‘deceived’ or ‘duped’ by things turning out differently to what you’d expected to feeling ‘disappointed’.

Che delusione.
How disappointing.

La festa era, purtroppo, una grande delusione.
The party unfortunately was a big disappointment.

Mike Ehrmantraut Breaking Bad Che Delusione No Che Vergogna GIF - Disappointment Disappointed Oh No GIFs

The adjective for ‘disappointed’ is deluso for a single masculine subject, changing to delusa/delusi/deluse if the subject being described is feminine singular/masculine plural/feminine plural.

Era delusa da come era venuta la torta.
She was disappointed with how the cake turned out.

Devo dire che siamo davvero delusi dal fatto che siamo stati trattati in questo modo.
I have to say that we’re very disappointed to have been treated this way.

A word you’ll often see used in combination with deluso/a/i/e is rimanere (ree-man-EH-reh): rimanere deluso.

You might correctly recognise rimanere as meaning ‘to remain’, and wonder why we’d use that word here – but rimanere also has an alternative meaning along the lines of ‘to become’, ‘to get’, or simply ‘to be’.

For example, you can rimanere incinta (get pregnant), or rimanere ferito (get hurt or wounded, for example in a car accident).

It’s also very often used with emotions, usually those experienced in the moment rather than long-term ones: you can rimanere sorpreso (be surprised), rimanere triste (be sad), rimanere scioccato (be shocked)… and rimanere deluso (be disappointed).

Sono rimasto molto deluso quando mi ha detto di aver abbandonato la scuola.
I was very disappointed when she told me she had dropped out of school.

Siamo rimasti delusi dalle condizioni della stanza d’albergo al nostro arrivo.
We were disappointed by the condition of the hotel room when we arrived.

With that, we wish you a weekend free of delusioni (disappointments)!

Do you have an Italian word you’d like us to feature? If so, please email us with your suggestion.

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