Latin Proverb # 22 – Lupus in Fabula

Latin Proverb: Lupus in Fabula – Terentius, Ad. 537

English equivalent: Speak of the devil.

Translation: The wolf in the story.

Meaning & use: Lupus in fabula is used when you speak of someone or something and they or it suddenly appears.

Curiosities: We find the Latin Lupus in Fabula not only with Terence but with Cicero as well. In his letters to Atticus, (13.33a.1) Cicero also provides us with information on how to use it by telling Atticus that:

De Varrone loquebamur: lupus in fabula, venit enim ad me et quidem id temporis ut retinendus esset.

i.e. ”We were speaking of Varro: Talk of the devil! He called, and at such an hour that I had to ask him to stay.”*

This proverb, to speak of someone as a way of summoning them or as a warning of keeping your tongue, is found in different versions all around the world. Some speak of dogs, cats and wolves, donkeys, devils and tigers, kings, lions and trolls. Usually the proverbs are split in two with only the first half used, such as with the English versions (there are several): Speak of the devil and he is at your tail; Speak of the devil and he shall appear; Speak of the devil and he’s presently at your elbow, etc.

The French do the same but derive their proverb from the Latin with their Quand on parle du loup, (on en voit sa queue), i.e. "When one speaks of the wolf, (one sees its tail)."

The Swedes are a bit more superstitious and instead use trolls: När man talar om trollen, så står de i farstun, i.e. ”When you speak of the trolls, they’re in your hallway.” The second half is rarely used.

The Danish and Norweigians are perhaps the most optimistic as they say: Når man taler om solen, så skinner den/Når man snakker om sola, så skinner'n, which translates to "When you speak of the sun, it shines."


Lupus in Fabula in other languages? 

Dansk: Når man taler om solen, så skinner den.

Deutsch: Wenn man vom Teufel spricht, kommt er gegangen.

Español: Hablando del rey de Roma, por la puerta asoma!

Français: Quand on parle du loup, (on en voit sa queue).

Italiano: Lupo in favola.

Norsk: Når man snakker om sola, så skinner'n.

Svenska: När man talar om trollen (så står de i farstun).

Português: Falando no diabo, aparece o rabo.


What would you say in your language(s)? Or do you have some fun new versions of this proverb? Let us know in the comments below!


*English translation by D. R. Shackleton Bailey, Loeb Classical Library.

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