booby-trap, booby-prize, booby bird

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Oct 10 10:32:08 UTC 2011

Having watched in succession several films and TV programs based on
Henry Fielding's novels, I noticed that either the directors or Fielding
himself were particularly fond of using variations on "Booby" as names
and epithets. In Joseph Andrews, the couple to whom the protagonist is a
servant are Squire and Lady Booby, residing in Booby Hall (also in
Shamela); in Tom Jones 1997 BBC rendition, Lady Bellaston repeatedly
refers to Squire Weston as "Booby county squire" ("country booby squire"
in the book, and only used once in reference to Western--the other time,
to Tom Jones)--the "title" that Tony Richardson had transformed into
"country clod" in his 1963 version. This particular "booby" lies behind
the booby bird, the booby prize and booby-trap, of course. I do not
venture to antedate "booby", which dates back to Beaumont and Fletcher,
at least.

But the three compounds are fair game. First in line is booby-trap,
which OED has to 1850. There are only five GB hits that have pre-1850
"booby-trap"--one has no preview at all, two of them are the same and
the very first one claims an occurrence in the Pickwick Papers (1837)
that turns out to be a fairly recent edition and the text is from
contemporary commentary, not from the original. So there are only two
additional hits for "booby-trap"--from 1846 and 1849, both in Sharpe's
London Magazine and both referring to the same story (the first is the
publication of the story itself).
Sharpe's London Magazine. No. 29. May 16, 1846
Frank Fairlegh, or, Scenes from the Life of a Private Pupil. Chapter
III. p. 41/2
> That I may not keep the reader in suspense, I will at once inform him,
> that I was indebted for this agreeable surprise to the kindness and
> skill of Lawless, who, having returned from his pigeon-match
> half-an-hour sooner than was necessary, had devoted it to the
> construction of what he called a "booby trap," which ingenious piece
> of mechanism was arranged in the following manner. The victim's
> room-door was placed ajar, and upon the top thereof a Greek Lexicon,
> or any other equally ponderous volume was carefully balanced, and upon
> this was set in its turn a jug of water. If all these were properly
> adjusted, the catastrophe above described was certain to ensue when
> the door was opened.
Sharpe's London Magazine. [November 1848 to February 1849] [The
placement appears to indicate the third or fourth quarter of the volume.]
Editor's Postscript. p. 192/2
> We see that a certain tale yclept "Frank Fairlegh," of which the
> readers of Sharpe may not be, entirely ignorant, is about to re-appear
> on this same first of January, in shilling parts, with two
> illustrations by George Cruikshank, to be continued monthly. Of this
> we can only say, that the first two plates are highly to the artist's
> credit, the "booby trap" being perfectly inimitable, and the
> demolition of the writing desk very good in its way.

"Booby-prize" set to prior to 1889 (the earliest citation date in the
OED) gets over 1100 (!) ghits in GB, although that may be due to a
fairly recent quirk in Google searches. Dropping the cut-off to 1883
gets two results--one, supposedly fro 1866, is a modern reprint where
the string appears in the comments; the other, ostensibly the Oberlin
Review from 1881, turns out to be a stack of volumes where it appears in
the Jan. 12, 1892, issue. So much for /that/ idea!

The earliest appears to be from Young England for September 1884 (which
GB lists as 1883).
Young England. London: September 1884.
"Dumps." A Tale of the Tawse. By Ascott R. Hope. p. 561/1-2
> We got out of school early after receiving final directions as to the
> examination. There was one other ceremony of a less public kind than
> that to be performed next day. At the end of every session the dominie
> had the satirical custom of presenting his tawse as a "booby-prize" to
> some idle or stupid lout whom he picked out as meriting this
> distinction, so that next time they met he might start fresh and fair
> with a new pair for a new set of classes. Usually there was a great
> deal of fun over this business; but on the present occasion it seemed
> like to pass off rather seriously. The dominie, holding up the old
> tawse, asked--
> "What are we to do wi' these noo? Shall we gie them to Tam Rutherford?
> As he's gotten his licks for takin' them, he might as weel hae them,
> then he canna say it was a' for naething."
> "Yes, yes," shouted out some inconsiderate sympathisers with Tam,
> while others, mindful of the indignity of the booby-prize, cried as
> loudly, "No, no."
> "Let him have the new ones, Mr. Smeaton," put in Alick Robertson, and
> this happy suggestion was received with general applause.
> "Maybe he'll think he's had more than he wants of them. But if he
> likes, he may hae them as a kind o' keepsake, and be can gie the auld
> anes to his friend Dumps, for if there ever was a stupid beast, it
> well deserves the booby-prize."
> Tam's sense of dignity not being very keen, he grinningly consented to
> receive the booby-prize on behalf of Dumps, and as for the other, he
> shared the common feeling that this formidable implement must be got
> rid of at any price. So both tawse were duly presented to him, and of
> the old ones was made a collar for Dumps, but the new ones Tam cut up
> into very small bits, which he distributed to every boy and girl in
> the school who might desire such a memorial of their short but
> terrible reign.

The same story postdates the use of both "dux" and "booby" in school
sense (opposite extremes in a class) and uses "second dux", which is
also mentioned in the 1870 citation. The odd thing is that the earlier
usage appears to be slightly different from the listed one:

> booby-prize n. a prize awarded in ridicule or fun to the player with
> the lowest score.

The idea is the same, but the context is different. And, given that
"booby" as the lowest-performing student is attested at least 20 years
earlier, it is odd that it took this long for the practice to appear. To
make things even more interesting, the "booby prize" could be awarded
for the substandard behavior rather than for the lowest score--the
equivalent of a dunce-cap.

"Booby-bird" is more difficult since there is /no/ OED entry for
it--there is an entry for birds named "booby", but not for the compound:

> 2. A name for different species of gannet, esp. Sula fusca.

These are cited at 1634, 1707, 1819 and 1860. But no booby-birds.

I found the plural in 1764 and singular in 1771, although many ghits
The modern part of an universal history: from the earliest account of
time. Volume 41. London: 1764
The History of America. Hispaniola, or St. Domingo, Trinidado,
Margarita, Porto Rico, and the other Spanish Islands in America. p. 524
> The /Virgin Islands, /which lie to the east of /Porto Rico, /belong
> likewise to the /Spaniards, /but are of little value, because they are
> barren and sandy; for which reason the /French /when they possessed
> /St. Christopher's, /banished thither their criminals. One of them is
> called /Bird-Istand, /from the multitude of booby-birds it contajns,
> which are so tame, that a man can catch them with his hand.
The history of a voyage to the Malouine (or Falkland) Islands: made in
1763 and 1764. By Antoine-Joseph Pernety. London: 1771
November 9, 1763. p. 20
> Some of our seamen said, it was a species of the /booby /bird, because
> it suffered itself to be caught in the hand, and grew tame, as soon as
> it was taken: but he had not however the crow bill, which belongs to
> the booby, and has procured it the name of the duck with the narrow
> bill. Our seamen gave the same name to another bird also, very much
> resembling this, except that it has a crooked bill, like that of a parrot.


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