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booby trap, n.

Frequency (in current use): 
Origin: Formed within English, by compounding. Etymons: booby n.1, trap n.1

 1. A means of deliberately tricking or luring an unwary or foolish person into difficulty or error. Also: a hidden or unsuspected source of difficulty; a pitfall. Frequently in to fall (also walk) into a booby trap . Cf. pitfall n. 4.Frequently used or understood as a figurative use of sense 2.
In quot. 1832   with reference to Lord Henley's use of the word ‘speedy’ when pledging to abolish slavery in the West Indies.

1832   Morning Chron. 19 Nov. 3/4   Let them only look at our ‘cunning Isaac's’ booby-trap, ‘speedy’, and determine for themselves, whether his old Tory Friends would have in his Lordship a very warm or stiff opponent.
1884   Edinb. Courant 13 Oct. 6/6   If we were to fall into such a booby trap..as Sir Wm. Harcourt called it, as to put the two bills on the table at the same time, and endeavour to put them on the statute book together [etc.].
1895   Sat. Rev. 4 May 582/2   Joint stock booby-traps in South Africa... In spite of Sir John Willoughby's unhesitating recommendation, we regard these as the most preposterous schemes..offered to the public.
1924   National Rev. Aug. 807   Many City bankers walked into every booby trap set for them by German ‘Imperialists’ and ‘Militarists’ before the war.
1956   New Outlook June 57/2   Let us not fall into the booby trap of using methods that give Russia grounds for hostility, that frighten our friends, and that alienate the uncommitted nations whose friendship we want and need.
1989   Washington Post (Nexis) 28 Mar. a1   Quayle was still extraordinarily ill-at-ease—with reporters in particular—examining even the most innocuous questions for hidden booby traps.
2005   W. W. Wittmann in O. Wilhelm & R. W. Engle Handbk. Understanding & Measuring Intelligence xiii. 223/1   Group differences is a most controversial topic in psychology and social sciences, in which a researcher can easily fall into booby traps.

1832—2005(Hide quotations)


 a. An object or set of objects set up, esp. as a practical joke, as a trap to startle or discomfort an unsuspecting person when triggered by a particular action (e.g. opening a door); a prank involving such a trap.A typical booby trap takes the form of an object balanced on top of a door, ready to fall on the next person to pass through.

1846   F. E. Smedley in Sharpe's London Mag. 16 May 41/2   The construction of what he called a ‘booby-trap’.
1868   Chambers's Jrnl. 20 Aug. 553/1   A ‘booby-trap’..consisted..of books, boots, &c. balanced on the top of a door, which was left ajar, so that the first incomer got a solid shower-bath.
1936   E. Goudge City of Bells (1998) i. 7   The elderly servants, Ellen and Sarah,..had spoilt him so when he was a boy, suffering his booby-traps with admirable patience.
1975   Times Lit. Suppl. 4 Apr. 372/3   He sets out to catch the thief by means of a simple but ingenious booby-trap made out of a gong and some string.
2007   East Valley (Mesa, Arizona) Tribune (Nexis) 25 Sept.   Danny would often set booby traps in his room and play jokes on his family.

1846—2007(Hide quotations)


 b. orig. Military. A trap set to harm, kill, or ensnare an enemy, intruder, etc.; (in later use often) spec. a concealed explosive device having a mechanism designed to detonate the explosive if it is disturbed.

1861   Allen's Indian Mail 23 Mar. 222/1   A large booby trap was found at the top of the hill, but troops coming up in rear prevented them making use of it.
1918   P. Gibbs From Bapaume to Passchendaele 4   The enemy left..‘booby-traps’ to blow a man to bits or blind him for life if he touched a harmless-looking stick or opened the lid of a box.
1961   Corpus Christi (Texas) Times 13 Nov. 12/3   The wife of a part time gunsmith was killed by a shotgun her husband rigged up as a booby-trap for burglars.
2014   Radio Times (South/West ed.) 18 Jan. 64/3   After the death of oil magnate Sir Robert King in a booby trap, agent James Bond becomes bodyguard to King's daughter, Elektra.

1861—2014(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2018).

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