In the Roberto Bolaño book 2666 there is an excerpt:

sus reservas, su discreción rayana en una quimérica omertà de viejo nazi que huele al lobo.

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


5 Answers 5


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).


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

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

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


Equal expressions in English, would be.

  • Something smells fishy

  • Something smells wrong

  • Or 'smell a rat'.
    – jacobo
    Commented Jul 21, 2019 at 21:17

En español una frase popular es: "Verle las orejas al lobo" para expresar el reconocimiento de un peligro. Oler al lobo es exactamente lo mismo. Smell danger.


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 comes from that story.

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

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