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Booby hatch

Posted by ESC on July 22, 2004

In Reply to: Booby trap posted by Gary on July 22, 2004

: : The origin of booby trap comes from a sailing background. In need of a bit of dietary variety, sailors would set up a simple rope noose on the decks of their ships baited with bread or stale biscuits. Passing sea-birds, like booby's would land on deck seeking rest or shelter and be lured and caught in the rope, hence 'booby trap'

: Sounds like one of those 'it would be nice if it were true' explanations. Unfortunately, as with most of those, it isn't. Booby is a slang term, originally coined by our colonial cousins, meaning dope/simpleton. A booby trap is any sort of trap, e.g. an object balanced over a door, that would catch out a simple person.

BOOBY HATCH - "'Booby,' for 'a dunce, a nimcompoop,' is recorded in English as far back as 1599, probably deriving from the Spanish 'boho,' 'a fool,' which in turn, may come from the L*tin 'balbus,' 'stammering.'.'Booby hatch,' for an insane asylum, may have its beginnings in the 'booby hatch,' a police wagon used to carry criminals to jail. This term can be traced back to 1776." From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

One reference does say a bird is involved in this phrase:

BOOBY HATCH (mental institution) -- "Some etymologists give a nautical derivation for this insensitive colloquial expression. They cite the practice of punishing sailors by confining them in the booby hatch - a small, hooded compartment located near the bow of the ship. The term is said to have arisen as a result of the screams of the unfortunate sailors imprisoned in the cramped stifling confines of the booby hatch It is more likely however, that the slang connotation arose from the word 'booby' itself. 'Booby' has its origins in the Spanish word 'boho' (slow-witted and foolish). In 1634, the celebrated author and traveler Sir Thomas Herbert described a tropical bird that perched on the yards of ships and allowed itself to be caught easily: 'one of the sailors espying a bird fitly called a Booby, he mounted to the top mast and took her. The quality of which bird is to sit still, not valuing danger.' It is easy to imagine the fun and diversion the bored, lonely sailors had in catching these dimwitted birds by hand, and confining them in a small, hooded coop called a 'hutch,' a word easily corrupted to 'hatch.'" From "When a Loose Cannon Flogs a Dead Horse There's the Devil to Pay: Seafaring Words in Everyday Speech" by Olivia A. Isil (International Marine/Ragged Mountain Press, McGraw-Hill, 1996)