hob·​gob·​lin ˈhäb-ˌgäb-lən How to pronounce hobgoblin (audio)
: a mischievous goblin

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What's the difference between a goblin and a hobgoblin?

While a goblin is often portrayed in folklore as a grotesque, evil, and malicious creature, a hobgoblin tends to traffic more in mischief than malice. (The character Puck in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream might be regarded as a hobgoblin.) First appearing in English in the early 16th century, hobgoblin combined hob, a word meaning "sprite" or "elf" that derived from Hobbe, a nickname for Robert, with goblin a word ultimately from the Greek word kobalos, meaning "rogue." American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson famously applied the word's extended sense in his essay Self-Reliance: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."

Example Sentences

intimidated by the hobgoblins of etiquette in Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream, Puck is a hobgoblin who plays pranks such as spoiling milk and tripping old ladies
Recent Examples on the Web Evidently, consistency really is the hobgoblin of small minds—the heirs to Scalia and Robert Bork don’t bother themselves with it. John Cassidy, The New Yorker, 26 June 2022 Resistance is the hobgoblin of antiviral medicine, even with antivirals as effective as Paxlovid. Jason Mast, STAT, 29 May 2022 Such hobgoblins of Hamilton’s imagination bear an eerie resemblance to the current occupant of the White House, with his tweets, double talk and inflammatory rhetoric at rallies. Ron Chernow, Twin Cities, 21 Oct. 2019 Nothing says Happy Halloween like a scary hobgoblin, all scowls and just looking for trouble. Woman's Day Staff, Woman's Day, 9 Sep. 2019 This fascination tells us more about ourselves than Sosa, who is demonstrating that foolish consistency said to be the hobgoblin of little minds. Phil Rosenthal, chicagotribune.com, 29 June 2018 Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote. Robert Krier, sandiegouniontribune.com, 7 June 2018 The witches used some as nests, too, leaving them for hobgoblins to sleep in. New York Times, 21 May 2018 God has His own Treblinka, with devils, hobgoblins, demons, angels of death. Ben Taub, The New Yorker, 30 Apr. 2018 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'hobgoblin.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


hob entry 1

First Known Use

1530, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of hobgoblin was in 1530


Dictionary Entries Near hobgoblin

Cite this Entry

“Hobgoblin.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/hobgoblin. Accessed 2 Dec. 2022.

Kids Definition



hob·​gob·​lin ˈhäb-ˌgäb-lən How to pronounce hobgoblin (audio)
: a mischievous elf or goblin

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