Booby Trap (Origin)

What Is the Origin of the Saying "Booby Trap"?

The word booby has been used since at least the late 17th Century to mean fool or idiot.

An unsophisticated trap (that only a fool would fall for) was called a booby trap. In time, the term has come to mean a harmful device designed to be triggered by an unsuspecting victim, usually with some form of bait to lure the victim. The idea that the victim is a fool has long disappeared.

A Competing Theory

In the late 17th Century, hungry sailors would set a trap for a seabird known as a booby. The term booby trap was literally a trap for a booby. However, it has evolved to mean a harmful device designed to be triggered by its unsuspecting victim.

That said, it is likely that the first theory offered is the origin of the term booby trap. The booby is a particularly docile seabird, and sailors could catch them very easily. It is highly probable that the seabird gets its name from being so dim. It follows therefore that booby trap most likely derived from the sense of idiot trap rather than seabird trap.

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Booby Trap (Origin)

Examples of Use:

  • As they entered the abandoned building, they unknowingly triggered a booby trap that set off an alarm.
  • The detective carefully inspected the area, wary of booby traps that could be set by the criminal.
  • He discovered a booby-trapped box that contained a hidden explosive, intended to cause harm to anyone who opened it.
  • The explorers proceeded with caution, aware that the ancient tomb could be filled with booby traps to protect its treasures.
  • They set up a booby trap to catch the intruder, triggering an alarm and alerting them to the presence of an unauthorized person.

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.