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."

Examples of hobgoblin in a Sentence

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 As Ralph Waldo Emerson might have said in an essay of the same name (and did), a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds; Tommy seems to feel his brain shrinking along with his life. John Anderson, WSJ, 9 Jan. 2024 Consistency is the hobgoblin of large language models. Brianne Kane, Scientific American, 29 Sep. 2023 While the community might celebrate the hobgoblin’s induction into Detroit culture, Detroiters must always keep watch for when the Nain Rouge returns and provokes disaster. Kylie Martin, Detroit Free Press, 8 Aug. 2023 The narrative unfolds communally around a table, with plenty of backtracking, retconning, and joking—and avoiding the small-minded hobgoblins of consistency and rules-lawyering. Ethan Gilsdorf, WIRED, 27 June 2023 Consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds. John Pearley Huffman, Car and Driver, 4 Feb. 2022 Powell & Co are now eyeing consumer service prices as the latest hobgoblin to hound. Gary Drenik, Forbes, 19 Dec. 2022 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 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'hobgoblin.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

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 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition


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

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