Do you know the biggest secret to making lots of Italian friends?
It’s really easy!
Be nice to them. (Mind-boggling, I know.)
Show them that you’re on their team and that you want them to succeed.
Boost their morale and cheer them up, and they’ll return that favor with genuine friendship.
Friendship is built during that moment when one person says to another, “Go get ‘em!”
It can be as simple as saying, “Good luck!”
So, in this post, I’m going to help your cause by giving you four ways you can encourage any native Italian speaker.
Throw these terms their way, and you’ll surely charm them into being your buddy for life.
Into the Wolf’s Mouth! 4 Ways to Say Good Luck in Italian
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1. Buona fortuna! (Good luck!)
What It Means
“Buona fortuna” is the literal translation of “good luck.” It’s the equivalent of the Spanish “Buena suerte” and the French “Bonne chance.”
The Italian “buon” or “buona” (good) is often used when you want to greet someone or wish someone well.
“Buon viaggio!” (Have a nice trip!)
“Buon appetito!” (Have a good meal!)
“Buon compleanno!” (Happy birthday!)
“Buona notte!” (Goodnight!)
“Fortuna” is the Italian word for “luck.”
Good Luck vs. Bad Luck: The Unlucky Italian Number
Speaking of luck, did you know that while the rest of the world cowers at the number 13 (and the bad luck it supposedly brings), your Italian friends actually think 13 is a lucky number? It’s the number 17 that sets their spines tingling.
Well, the number 17, when written in Roman numerals, is XVII. That looks innocent enough, but rearrange the letters and you’ll get VIXI. And no, that’s not an Italian luxury brand. It’s Latin for “I have lived.”
“Lived,” as in the past tense. Meaning, your life is over. Meaning, you’re dead.
That’s why there’s sometimes no row 17 on Alitalia planes and no room 17 or 17th floor in Italian hotels.
You can call it superstition, but it seems that Italy’s experience with the number 17 is not so hunky-dory. Take football, for example. Do you remember that gut-wrenching, divinely-awful penalty loss against Brazil in the ’94 World Cup final?
Right! That happened on July… the 17th.
If you need a refresher, check out this recap from FIFATV.
2. In bocca al lupo! (Into the wolf’s mouth!)
What It Means
Many believe that wishing someone good luck directly will only jinx the situation and bring about the complete opposite: bad luck. (Lady Luck, it seems, is fiendishly fickle and can only be coaxed, not commanded.)
So instead, the phrase “In bocca al lupo” is used by many Italians to wish a friend good luck. Maybe they’re about to go in for an interview or take an exam. You can offer the phrase “In bocca al lupo,” which is akin to the English “break a leg.” Your friend is supposed to answer “Crepi il lupo” (may the wolf die) or just “Crepi!” for short.
Where It Comes From
Nobody’s really sure how the use of “In bocca al lupo” got started. There are a couple of theories regarding the origin of the phrase, but just like “break a leg,” we can’t really pinpoint it with complete certainty.
Supposedly, “In bocca al lupo” was used to send off hunters going on an expedition. “Lupo” (wolf) here represents any danger, challenge or difficulty one may meet along the way. Yes, in life, you’ll find yourself in the wolf’s mouth, but by responding, “Crepi!” (die), you’re saying that you’ll overcome whatever challenge lies ahead of you.
Another traditional explanation for this Italian phrase harks back to the very origins of Rome. It’s said that Romulus and Remus, the mythological twin brothers who founded Rome, were brought up by a she-wolf. They were originally left to die on a riverbank, but a wolf nurtured and even suckled them back to health.
In this narrative, the wolf is of a benevolent nature, unlike in the previous account where it represents danger or an obstacle. If we assume the phrase comes from the story of Romulus and Remus, then being in the wolf’s mouth is a good thing, as wolves carry their pups in their mouths. In other words, the safest place for a helpless pup is in the mouth of its mother, where it’s protected from all the wiles of the world.
The response “Crepi!” throws a bit of a wrench into this explanation, however, because you wouldn’t want the wolf to die if it represented safety. Perhaps, if this second origin story is true, the reply phrase evolved centuries later when the rest of the story had been forgotten.
In any case, you can use “In bocca al lupo” to wish your friend good luck.
A note on pronunciation: Italians love to contract sounds, and “In bocca al lupo” is a good example of this.
The sequential “As” in “bocca” and “al” and the sequential “Ls” in “al” and “lupo” allow the phrase to be pronounced as “in bocalupo.” (This is essentially what you’ll hear from fast-talking native speakers.)
In the same tradition, the response, “Crepi il lupo” (may the wolf die), with its series of “Is” in “crepi” and “il” and “Ls” in “il” and “lupo,” can simply sound like “crepilupo” in conversation.
3. In culo alla balena! (In the whale’s bottom!)
What It Means
If you think “Buona fortuna” is too dry and “In bocca al lupo” is too common, you might want to throw your friend something a little bit cruder, with more than a hint of vulgarity.
Needless to say, don’t use this one on strangers or people you’re not close to. The expression assumes a certain kind of familiarity with the person you wish it on—especially when you consider that the standard reply for “In culo alla balena” (in the whale’s bottom) is “Speriamo che non caghi” (let’s hope it doesn’t poop). So yeah, that just happened.
Where It Comes From
Nobody really knows where this phrase comes from. Some say it first came from the mouths of sailors.
Others are quick to point out the Biblical story of Jonah, who was on a boat that got caught in a terrible storm. The long and short of it is that the boat’s crew determined that Jonah carried bad luck and if they wanted to survive those gale force winds, they had to throw him overboard. So that’s exactly what they did! And the sea became calm again.
Meanwhile, Jonah was quickly swallowed by a whale and lived inside of it for three days until he was delivered to dry land.
While we can’t really ascertain this as the source of the expression, it does have some parallels—like the concept of bad luck and the whale.
Besides, English speakers shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over the origins of “In culo alla balena” when they have idioms like “it’s raining cats and dogs” and when sayings like “fat chance” and “slim chance” both mean the same thing.
4. Auguri! (Best wishes!)
What It Means
“Auguri!” can be a catch-all term for when you want to wish someone well. It comes from the verb “augurare,” which means “to wish.”
For example, if your friend has a birthday, you can greet him with “Auguri!”
For Christmas or Easter, you can also use “Auguri!” It’s short for “Auguri di Buon Natale!” (Merry Christmas!) and “Auguri di Buona Pasqua!” (Happy Easter!).
Simply say “Auguri!” and the context of the occasion will be taken into consideration. Whether it’s a new job, a new baby or a new house, your good wishes will be noted.
Now you have four different ways to say “good luck” in Italian and win over those new friends. Use the phrases as often as you want, and start building genuine bonds with native Italian speakers.
In bocca al lupo!
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