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In Roberto Bolano book 2666 there is a piece

sus reservas, su discrecion rayana en una quimerica omerta de viejo nazi que huele al lobo.

What does it mean? In Google I only found search reult "La abuela huele a lobo". I do not think that there is literal meaning to it (e.g. that something smells of a wolf)? What does it mean then?

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Thanks you all! Very nice to get your answers so quickly. Very helpful!! –  user2690 Mar 20 at 16:31

4 Answers 4

I'm going to give a different interpretation from some of the other answers. For this, we need to look at a larger portion of the original text:

"[...] detalle que al Suavo no le pasó desapercibido y que más bien contribuyó a agudizar su timidez [...], sus reservas, su discreción rayana en una quimérica omertà de viejo nazi que huele al lobo."

The text above could be translated into English as:

a detail that Suavo did not miss and that contributed to intensify his shyness, his natural reserve, his discretion bordering a chimeric omertà of an old nazi that smells a wolf

where omertà is "(amongst the Mafia) a code of silence about criminal activity and a refusal to give evidence to the police" and smells a wolf is used figuratively as in "smells danger".

Suavo felt he was being observed and reacted with the utmost discretion.


Oler al lobo (smell a wolf) should not be confused with oler a lobo (smell like a wolf).

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I think you made the exact translation by adding more context to the sentence. –  fedorqui Mar 24 at 10:08

What I understand is that a person that "huele al lobo" knows that somebody is not a good person and is not going to be tricked.

Think of Little Red Riding Hood. If she had "oler al lobo" when arrived to grandma's house she would have run away. I suppose the expression cames from that story.

EDIT: Reading it again I realized that it can have a more simple meaning. "Lobo" can be a metaphore to say danger (wolves are not friendly animals). So "oler al lobo" can mean to know a danger is comming.

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Equal expressions in English, would be.

  • Something smells fishy

  • Something smells wrong

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From my point of view, clearly "oler al lobo" means to smell danger, as here the phrase tries to make a metaphor.

On animal world the wolf is a big hunter, a dangerous predator whose smell is well known for any other inhabitant of the woods and mountains.

So "viejo nazi que huele al lobo" gives the glimpse of an old predator who detects the danger of an enemy or a threat on the air.

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