“In bocca il lupo, crepi il lupo” is an Italian idiom used in opera and theater and is like the English phrase “Break a leg.” I discovered the phrase the night before I took the LSAT. I was reading a law school forum about getting into law school (when I probably should have been sleeping or thinking about something else), and someone posted the phrase to wish others well. It was at first unfamiliar to me, but after reading about what it meant and repeating its meaning to myself, I really began to like it. It literally translates to “In the mouth of the wolf, may the wolf die”. Without getting too deep into the culture of theater superstitions, just know that idioms like this come from the idea that wishing someone good luck is actually bad luck.
By just telling yourself or others Il bocca al lupo, you are probably doing well in the eyes of an Italian, but I apply the statement much more deeply. I use it to prepare myself mentally for big events and break down my doubts so I can build up my confidence.
- “In bocca il lupo” – The recognition that what you are about to do may be difficult, nerve wracking, and even dangerous. By acknowledging and embracing the unique fear that comes with each new obstacle we face in life, we are able to better prepare to overcome it. For instance, imagine that you have a big presentation in class or at work and you are terrified. Sure, you might find yourself in the mouth of the wolf, but what exactly makes that frightening? After consideration, you gather that what’s really scary is the thought of looking silly in front of your peers. Next you might realize that they are just people, who have no control over your life, who might be just as nervous as you are. From there you might think, what’s the worse that could happen? What’s the best? Which brings you to the second part of the phrase.
- “Crepi al lupo” – May the wolf die. While it may be unlikely that someone you know tells you “in bocca al lupo” giving you the opportunity to respond with “Crepi”, telling it to yourself can be even more effective for organizing you nervous thoughts and becoming more confident. I think Crepi al lupo has two meanings:
- “What’s the best that can happen?” Well, if you are literally stuck in the mouth of a wolf, the wolf dying is probably top on the list of desirable outcomes. Going back to the big presentation example, the best thing that could happen would be for you to do extremely well and get lots of positive feedback. Whether you are responding to someone or thinking this through in your head, when you say Crepi, you are realizing how likely it is for that best case scenario to actually happen.
- The second way I interpret Crepi al lupo comes not from the words, but the way it’s spoken. When someone says to you In bocca al lupo, by responding with crepi al lupo, you are saying “I join you in hoping that the best happens to me.” While its considered bad luck to tell someone good luck, it’s even worse if they respond by saying thank you. Saying Crepi, puts matters into your own hands. Why wish for that best case to happen? You know it will happen! Up to this point you have practiced and developed the necessary skill to be successful, so it would be absurd for that wolf to eat you alive.
You have acknowledged that you may be facing a difficult and frightening situation, you know what the best case scenario is, and you have wished for that scenario to happened, either with someone else or with yourself. At first glance this may seem like a complicated analysis of a simple Italian phrase, but if you practice thinking through In bocca al lupo, crepi al lupo, you will quickly address what scares you and remind yourself why you can overcome it. I have used this to encourage myself while preparing for the scariest test i’ve ever taken. Tell me how you plan to use In bocca al lupo to prepare yourself!