What is the Origin of the Booby Trap?

Booby Trap

What is a Booby Trap?

In its traditional historical use, the term “booby trap” referred to a practical joke intended for people perceived as foolish or stupid. Today, its meaning has evolved to imply a hidden and possibly deadly trap. More specifically, a booby trap is a device intended to kill, harm, or neutralize a person when his/her actions unknowingly trigger it.

In most modern scenarios, and as depicted in popular media such as film, a booby trap typically has a trigger mechanism loosely attached to it. When a person touches or moves the trigger, the trap is activated. It could be a bomb, a deadly gas, or other fatal weapons such as arrows. It’s worth noting that in most cases, booby traps are usually concealed and often mistaken for harmless objects by unsuspecting victims.

The Origin of the Term Booby Trap

If you thought the term “booby” had anything to do with the chest of the fairer sex, don’t worry. It is a perfectly understandable and forgivable thought. But the word “booby” in this sense actually traces its roots back to the late 17th century. It was born out of another term, bobo, a Spanish word meaning “stupid,” “naïve,” or “fool.” Bobo was also a derivation from another Latin word, balbus, which meant “to stammer” or “stammering.” The ancient Romans, in their infinite wisdom, considered stammering a symbol of stupidity.

Thus, “booby traps” became the reference for all the traps that idiots (or boobs) fell victim to. The term even evolved to newer expressions such as “booby prize.” This was an award granted to those considered as fools. The prize bore no real value other than perhaps public scrutiny because such a prize was essentially awarded to the loser of a competition. The use of the “booby prize” first appeared in the late nineteenth century.

The early use of “booby traps” shows that initially, the traps were simple practical jokes with no intention of harming their victims. In Frank Smedley’s 1895 book, Frank Fairleigh: Or Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil, he mentions creations of what he referred to as a “boob-trap.” The 1868 Chambers Journal also described a typical booby trap as consisting of books or items piled up on a door so that they would collapse on the first person coming in – a typical schoolboy prank.

In the early 20th century, however, the term began to evolve rapidly, incorporating crude mechanisms that would be harmful, and even deadly to unsuspecting victims. Booby traps in this sense became a common feature in warfare, particularly the World Wars. The term has maintained this meaning and purpose to date.

Commonly Used Modern Booby Traps

Over the years, booby traps have been used in different settings such as homes for security, offices and schools as pranks and in war, to harm the enemy. Some don’t require any specialized skills, while others are complex and only can be set up by experts. Below is a list of four common modern booby traps and how they are used in their basic most forms.

Booby Trap 1. Trip Wires

They are proven lethal traps in battlefields and effective home security precautionary measures. A trip wire can detect, scare, and in some instances, kill a suspected threat that compromises the security of your home. Threats assume many forms such as thieves, burglars, hitmen, and gangs, among others. Trip wires can play two main roles: that of an alarm and a booby trap.

In the first role, an unsuspecting intruder trips a wire running between two hidden points on the ground and an alarm is tripped alerting the homeowner of the threat. In the second setup, a trip wire can be connected to the trigger mechanisms of an explosive device, which when tripped, produces a noise, flash, or explosion, injuring, scaring, or killing the intruder on the spot. The second role of trip wires features prominently in military warfare and armed conflicts.

Booby Trap 2. Swinging Log Traps

The movies illustrate the working on these booby traps perfectly. In a typical scene, the enemy will be cutting across a forested area or a property surrounded by trees. Suddenly, he/she may trip a chord or a trigger mechanism, which sends one or more huge logs flying in their direction striking, and possibly killing them, at an instance. That is the swinging log trap. In military warfare, they have been used to counter threats trying to navigate enemy territory.

This type of booby trap will only work if you live on properties surrounded by many trees. For maximum impact, all flying logs should be channeled to a single point, where you have tactfully directed your threat. For instance, you can strategically place fences and plant bushes so that they restrict the movement of intruders. Cornering them maximizes the chances that they will trigger and get struck by flying logs.

Booby Trap 3. Spike Pit Booby Traps

They can have both lethal and mild outcomes. These type of traps require digging pits in strategic and hidden locations around your property. The bottom of the pit typically contains wooden or metal spikes with the sharp ends facing upwards. The holes are covered with simple camouflage materials such as leaves so that the setting will look as natural as possible. When an intruder walks over the hole”s covering, it gives way and he/she falls into the pit, and on the spikes.

The pit traps can be either large or small. The large ones can be fatal because the entire being falls into the pit. The spikes can pierce vital organs causing instant death. The small ones are non-fatal as they only injure specific body parts, such as the legs when intruders step on them.

Booby Trap 4. Nail Spikes

Their working mechanism is similar to that of the spike pit booby trap but less elaborate and lethal. They aim at preventing intruders from accessing your compound or your house”s interior. The setup is simple and can be done in minutes. It only takes hammering reasonably sized nails into a square block of wood until they pierce it and emerge on the other side.

Several spikes should cover all entrances within the property. They are placed on the ground and covered with leaves or soil so that the spikes are not easily visible. When intruders attempt to enter your property or house, they step on the spikes and their feet are injured, preventing any further access into your home.


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