Annals of remarkable birds (like the hoatzin, here): an image passed on to me by Chris Hansen:


Two blue-footed boobies. Yes, that’s their real color. But why boobies?

About the birds, from Wikipedia:

The blue-footed booby (Sula nebouxii) is a marine bird in the family Sulidae, which includes ten species of long-winged seabirds. Blue-footed boobies belong to the genus Sula, which comprises six species of boobies. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive bright blue feet, which is a sexually selected trait. Males display their feet in an elaborate mating ritual by lifting their feet up and down while strutting before the female.

… The natural breeding habitats of the blue-footed booby are the tropical and subtropical islands of the Pacific Ocean. It can be found from the Gulf of California down along the western coasts of Central and South America down to Peru. Approximately one half of all breeding pairs nest on the Galápagos Islands.


NOAD2 gives two senses for booby: ‘a stupid or childish person’ and the bird (above), with

ORIGIN early 17th cent.: probably from Spanish bobo (in both senses), from Latin balbus ‘stammering’

The tentative etymology treats the two senses as one historically, seeing the bird and an oaf or fool as deeply similar. Then from the first sense, we get the compounds booby trap and booby hatch. From NOAD2:

booby trap: a thing designed to catch the unwary, in particular:

– an apparently harmless object containing a concealed explosive device designed to kill or injure anyone who touches it: miles of mines, booby traps, and underground fortifications
– a trap intended as a practical joke, such as an object placed on top of a door ajar ready to fall on the next person to pass through

booby hatch: (N. Amer. informal) a psychiatric hospital

And from boob, the slang compound boob tube ‘television set’, attested in the OED from 1966.

Also, from this item the first sense of booby, we get shortened boob ‘stupid fellow, clown’; the datings in the OED make it clear that that this boob is a shortening of booby, rather than the reverse.

There are more loose ends. First, there’s another sense ‘jail, jail cell’ for both boob and booby, though the historical sequence is unclear.

Then there’s a slang ‘breast’ sense for both boob and booby (both most often attested in the plural); the first is attested in the OED in 1949, the second in 1934. OED has booby as the clearly older item, a variant of the now-obsolete or dialectal slang bubby (first attested in 1690), which the OED says is comparable to German bübbi ‘teat’.

There’s a lot of supposition in these stories.

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