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I found the origin of the word and the statistics about its usage.

I found these two links about facebook and Oracle’s Public Cloud using the term figuratively. Is this usage common today?

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So: according to the answers so far, NO it is not commonly used as a figurative description of a kind of business behavior. –  GEdgar Oct 15 '11 at 20:19
    
@bernd_k: If you look in more detail at your NGram references, you'll see that a lot of them actually define what the expression is supposed to mean. That in itself should tell you that it's not a particularly common idiomatic usage. Also I see quite a few that just use it to mean a cheap (fleapit) hostelry, along the lines of Cockroach Towers, so it doesn't even have a fixed meaning anyway. –  FumbleFingers Oct 15 '11 at 22:48

2 Answers 2

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Roach Motel is a brand of roach trap introduced in the U.S. by Black Flag in 1976. The traps work by giving roaches a way to enter, but not to exit. The advertisements for the produce often end with this line: "Roaches check in, but they don't check out!"

Not long after the product was introduced, people began using it metaphorically. Vincent Canby wrote a review of the movie Escape from New York that appeared on July 10, 1981 in the New York Times:

Manhattan becomes a sort of super Roach Motel: the inmates check in but they don't check out.

In both of the examples you give, the phrase roach motel indicates that the product only works in one direction -- you can only check in, not check out.

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So that's the meaning, but how about answering the question: is it in common use? (I'd never heard it before.) –  Hugo Oct 15 '11 at 16:41
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That is what I want to know too, I just listened to the complete Keynote of Larry Ellison from ORACLE where he used it youtube.com/… –  bernd_k Oct 15 '11 at 16:46
    
@Hugo I answered the question asked in the title. I don't think I can offer any greater insight into its commonness than the Google Ngrams already supplied in the question. –  D Krueger Oct 15 '11 at 17:57
    
Sorry perhaps I'm not clear. I mean was it used in figurative sense in the past or was it used only in relation with real insects. –  bernd_k Oct 15 '11 at 18:07
    
Added an early example of the usage not pertaining to insects. –  D Krueger Oct 15 '11 at 19:34

A "roach motel" is an insect's version of a mousetrap. It is basically a "killer."

The usage is from American English, not British English, and it was the advertising logo for a kind of bug poison introduced many years ago.

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