No, it is not a word, it appears to have been first coined over 1,200 years ago, during the Middle Ages in Italy. The term refers to a certain kind of trap (i.e. the traps to which we are often compared to the Roman empire), which was commonly used to ensnare rats, mice and shrews, but which no longer exists. In other words, if a rat jumps too far in too small a space of trap he loses the chance of escaping alive. A ‘trap’ was simply a kind of cage-door, but was often called a ‘trap cage,’ because the ‘box’ was too small.
The Romans had a reputation for using a lot of traps. As a result, we often refer to traps when we aren’t talking about them!
The Romans were notorious for putting a lot of traps in a few places, making them very easy to identify, and to hunt down. They usually took up positions outside a city, just like the Greeks. Their trap-boxes were designed to be large, sturdy boxes, rather than simply simple containers. There was a strong walled-off area in the middle of the box, surrounded by several smaller compartments. If someone jumped in a small compartment he would have trouble getting out and, in a worst-case situation, be suffocated by the large trap box.
This is an early picture of a trap-canister which was used to trap mice. It is very similar to a modern-day kitchen cabinet trap with a hole in the bottom.
In some parts of Europe, like Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands, you can still find trap traps lying about. In a few remote parts of the world, like southern Germany and eastern Europe, they are all that remains from the Roman era, or at least were once still around. Trap-caves are still the dominant trap-canisters, with very few exceptions.
There are, of course, exceptions. A well-known example is in the Tannenbach-haus in Tannenberg near Essen in Germany. It is surrounded by a lot of other trap-canisters, many of them small (as little as 5 sq. ft.), but none of which could be labeled a trap! A large box with a thick steel door is all you need for a trap-cave, with two big lids to seal it off from the outside world.
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