• hobgoblin •
Pronunciation: hahb-gahb-lin • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A mischievous sprite or elf, a small grotesque supernatural creature that makes mischief for humans, Robin Goodfellow, Puck. 2. Anything that people foolishly fear.
Notes: This time of the year, children are thinking a lot about this word. It is very nearly a lexical orphan. It has only one relative, an abstract noun referring to the business of hobgoblins, hobgoblinry.
In Play: Today's Good Word basically refers to a spiritual being, perhaps slightly less frightening than a goblin: "Mommy, I want to be a hobgoblin for Halloween!" But it can refer to abstract ideas that scare people: "Every time the pension plan is brought up at an office meeting, the boss drags his favorite hobgoblins out of the closet."
Word History: Believe it or not, the hob in hobgoblin is a nickname for Robin Goodfellow, a mischievous sprite in English folklore. Goblin was borrowed from Old French gobelin. It is possible that this word is derived from Medieval Latin cobalus. This word was borrowed from Greek kovalos "rogue, knave", a word based on kovaloi, a wicked sprite invoked by rogues and knaves. We can only speculate beyond this point. However, it is possible that German Kobold "household goblin", which became cobalt in English, is related. Harz Mountains silver miners used this term for rock laced with arsenic and sulfur which, when degraded, made the miners ill.