Today I came across an interesting Russian idiom in the book I’m reading (Moon Seed, by Stephen Baxter): Ни пуха, ни пера (Ni púkha, ni perá). It means literally “neither fur nor feather” and is used to wish someone good luck.
The phrase was originally used by Russian hunters in a sarcastic/ironic way. The feathers referred to birds, and the fur to animals, so they were saying that they hoped that the other hunters wouldn’t catch any birds or animals.
The usually reply to this phrase is К чёрту (K chëtu), which means “to the devil” or “go to hell”, and is saying “the hell I won’t”.
An equivalent of this phrase in English is “break a leg”, which is traditionally said to actors to wish them luck before they go on stage, especially on the opening night. According to theatrical superstition it’s bad luck to wish someone good luck.
This phrase first appeared in writing in May 1948 in the The Charleston Gazette as:
“Another [superstition] is that one actor should not wish another good luck before a performance but say instead ‘I hope you break a leg.”
There is a similar phrase in German, Hals und Beinbruch (break your neck and leg), which was apparently used by the Luftwaffe during WWII. This might come from the Hebrew blessing hatzlakha u-brakha‘ (success and blessing), which might have made it’s way into English via German and Yiddish.
Are there idiomatic ways to wish people luck in other languages?