Booby Trap (Origin)

by Craig Shrives

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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See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs