Superstition – Sicily, Italy

“In bocca al lupo!”

“In mouth to the wolf!”

“In the mouth of the wolf!”

Nick told me that he learned this phrase from his grandmother who was from Sicily and used it frequently. He said that this phrase is used in the Sicilian tradition to wish a person good luck. You would tell this to a person who was about to make a big leap or an important decision in their life. He said that it was almost the equivalent to “break a leg” in English. You would say this to a person when you hope that they are successful in their endeavors and that they come out of it safe and has gained some wisdom from the experience.

Nick was unsure of the correlation between a wolf and wishing someone good luck, but said that he believed it was tied to the story of Romulus and Remus. He explained to me how Romulus and Remus were put into a basket as young babies. A she-wolf came upon them and carried them in her mouth to safety. The wolf nursed the boys and took care of them. Nick explained that it was possible that this phrase was meant to bestow the same luck the boys received when the wolf had come along and carried them to safety.  In other words, it would of good fortune for a person to land in the mouth of a wolf of the likes who saved Romulus and Remus.

This phrase initially confused me when Nick had first told me the translation. It brought to mind the story of the boy who cried “wolf” and I had thought of it as more of a didactic piece of advice. I thought it was a way of telling someone not to be foolish and to make smart decisions so as to not be eaten by the wolf when it really does show up. After hearing Nick’s explanation, I can see now that it is a more encouraging phrase. The saying is used to bolster a person’s courage and to see them enjoy success and health in making the decisions that they so choose. It seems a very invigorating way of cheering a person on and seems to express the need for bravery and boldness in living a full and happy life. This phrase carries connotations of brazenness in giving someone the encouragement they need to accomplish their goals.