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When a trap is set up to be active, is it "sprung" or "unsprung"?

I'm confused by the ambiguity of the verb "spring". That is, a trap that is set up and active could be "sprung" in the sense that a spring is compressed and ready to launch, but it could also be "unsprung" in the sense that it hasn't yet sprung to action because its spring force has yet to be released. And after a victim walks into the trap and causes it to spring, the same ambiguity (in my mind) seems to apply.

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    Thank you for your answers! Now that I realize that the verb for setting a trap is, well, "set", it's more clear that spring/sprung/unsprung refers to the occurrence of the trap action when something sets it off rather than the trap's preparation by the trapper. – Clint J. Freshman May 21 '14 at 12:16
  • So if a trapper sets two types of trap, one with a spring mechanism and one operated by another type of mechanism, he may on checking the traps find that the unsprung trap has sprung but the sprung one is as yet unsprung. – Clint J. Freshman May 21 '14 at 12:24
  • If you dig a hole in the ground and cover it with leaves in order to catch a bear and come back in the morning and see the leaves are still there, then someone comes along and falls in it, I would say they fell into an unsprung trap – mplungjan May 21 '14 at 12:32
  • Indeed, in both meanings of the word. The trap did not have a spring in it and it hadn't been set off by the animal it was intended to catch. – Clint J. Freshman May 21 '14 at 12:34
  • It was not until today I looked up unsprung and saw it also related to a mattress or a vehicle. When the next word is trap and not weight, then it does not in my opinion or experience have anything to do with whether or not there are springs in the trap or not but the word sprung/unsprung in this case is synonym of trigger and not relating to the metal spring that may be the etymology of the word – mplungjan May 21 '14 at 12:36
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If "an unsprung trap" can mean "a trap not fitted with springs" and also "a trap which has not activated", then generally the second would be the more pertinent information and the more likely meaning, unless you're having a discussion with a trap maker, in which case, well, sometimes things are just ambiguous.

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When a trap is set up to be active, it is "set". It is only said to be "sprung" when it is activated.

I can see how the confusion arises, in the case of a trap which actually has a spring in it. But in that case in particular I think you should avoid the word "unsprung" to mean "set" because the word "unsprung" can mean "not having springs".

You could however use something like "not yet sprung" to refer to a trap that is "set" (and it doesn't matter whether the trap involves an actual spring).

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If you set a trap and leave it to be sprung, then return to find that it hasn't, then it is an unsprung trap. At least in American English. For some (possibly obvious) reason it is not showing in British English ngram

For example in one of the stories in my link, an owl has flown in through a window and was caught in an unsprung trap intended for rats

Note: It was not until today I looked up unsprung and saw it also related to a mattress or a vehicle. When the next word is trap and not weight, then it does not in my opinion or experience have anything to do with whether or not there are springs in the trap or not but the word sprung/unsprung in this case is synonym of trigger and not relating to the metal spring that may be the etymology of the word

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  • Technically, nothing can be caught in an unsprung trap; it is the act of springing that catches. You could call it an as-yet unsprung trap, but even then you would have distinguish between 'hitherto unsprung' (which is not strictly correct) and 'thitherto unsprung' (which nobody ever says). – Tim Lymington May 21 '14 at 12:04
  • But I see absolutely no ambiguity in the statement about the owl – mplungjan May 21 '14 at 12:13
  • If you exclude the possibility that the owl trapped a claw in the wood of the trap without springing it (which I agree is highly artificial), then the clear meaning of unsprung, which you helpfully summarize, plainly does not apply to the example. The fact that the situation makes it obvious what was intended does not mean any word at all can be used, and the responsibility piled on the reader. – Tim Lymington May 21 '14 at 12:22
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The word sprung in the OP's context implies 'fitted with a wound spring'.

The trap operates by unwinding the spring on a trigger.

It is common to refer to the device itself (in any state) as a 'sprung trap' -- Buy a sprung trap. ; Use a sprung trap to catch a mouse.

Nice idea indeed (but sprung means 'not sprung'):

I've seen in the past it might take several try's (tries) to get a set trap 'operational'. 'Course a sprung trap, allowing the mice to clean it out will give them a false sense of security. Let 'em eat for a day or so and then set the trap.

This one gone a waste (smart rats or lucky ones):

I have also come back to find a sprung trap, nothing in it, and a large dead pack rat close by. Guess it hit them on the head, and they didn't stay in the trap.

Sprung means 'unsprung':

Overnight, rodents are lured into the traps by tantalizing peanut butter/oat scents and step on a trigger that sets off the trap. Early the next morning , we check each trap. When we discover a sprung trap, we carefully empty it into a heavy plastic bag

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