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
  • Just to add an example: I came across this term in this video on "dark patterns", i.e. how app and website designers can trick users into doing things that they might not want to do, but which benefit the company in question (e.g. in-app purchases). Or make it hard for users to perform actions that could hurt the business (e.g. deleting your account). User Experience specialist Harry Brignull calls it a roach motel, because the design makes it easy to get into a situation, but hard to get out. https://youtu.be/kxkrdLI6e6M – Bart Apr 3 '18 at 9:38

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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