For other uses, see Goblin (disambiguation).
Grouping Dwarf
Country Northwestern Europe, Scandinavia, British Isles, United States
Habitat Caves, woodland

A goblin is a monstrous creature from European folklore, first attested in stories from the Middle Ages. They are ascribed various and conflicting abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. They are almost always small and grotesque, mischievous or outright evil, and greedy, especially for gold and jewelry. They often have magical abilities similar to a fairy or demon. Similar creatures include brownies, dwarves, gnomes, imps, and kobolds.


Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, goblyn, and gobbelin.

English goblin is first recorded in the 14th century and is probably from unattested Anglo-Norman *gobelin,[1] similar to Old French gobelin, already attested around 1195 in Ambroise of Normandy's Guerre sainte, and to Medieval Latin gobelinus in Orderic Vitalis before 1141,[2][3] which was the name of a devil or a daemon haunting the country around Évreux, Normandy.

It may be related both to German kobold and to Medieval Latin cabalus, or *gobalus, itself from Greek κόβαλος (kobalos), "rogue", "knave", "imp", "goblin".[2][4] Alternatively, it may be a diminutive or other derivative of the French proper name Gobel, more often Gobeau,[5][6] diminutive forms Gobelet, Goblin, Goblot, but their signification is probably "somebody who sells timblers or beakers or cups".[7] Moreover, these proper names are not from Normandy, where the word gobelin, gobelinus first appears in the old documents. German Kobold contains the Germanic root kov- (Middle German Kobe "refuge, cavity", "hollow in a rock", Dial. English cove "hollow in a rock", English "sheltered recess on a coast", Old Norse kofi "hut, shed" ) which means originally a "hollow in the earth".[8][9] The word is probably related to Dial. Norman gobe "hollow in a cliff", with simple suffix -lin or double suffixation -el-in (cf. Norman surnames Beuzelin,[10] Gosselin,[11] Étancelin,[12] etc.)

The Welsh coblyn, a type of knocker, derives from the Old French gobelin via the English goblin.[13][14]

European folklore and collected folk stories

The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920

Goblin-like creatures in other cultures

Many Asian lagyt creatures have been likened to, or translated as, goblins. Some examples for these:

From The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, 1920
A Goblin from Warhammer

See also


  1. T. F. Hoad, English Etymology, Oxford University Press, p. 196b.
  2. 1 2 CNRTL etymology of gobelin (online French)
  3. Du Cange et al, Glossarium mediae et infimae latinitatis ...(online French and Latin)
  4. κόβαλος, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, A Greek-English Lexicon, on Perseus
  5. Harper, Douglas. "Goblin". The Online Etymological Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-12-20.
  6. HOAD, p. 196b.
  7. Albert Dauzat, Noms et prénoms de France, Librairie Larousse 1980, édition revue et commentée par Marie-Thérèse Morlet. p. 295b Gobel.
  8. Duden, Herkunftswörterbuch : Etymologie der deutschen Sprache, Band 7, Dudenverlag, p. 359 : Kobel, koben, Kobold.
  9. HOAD, p. 101b.
  10. Géopatronyme : surname Beuzelin in France (online French)
  11. Géopatronyme : surname Gosselin in France (online French) Gosselin
  12. Géopatronyme : surname Étancelin in France (online French)
  13. Franklin, Anna (2002). "Goblin", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Fairies. London: Paper Tiger. ISBN 1-84340-240-8. p. 108
  14. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English
  15. Apples4theTeacher - short stories
  16. Dutch Fairy Tales for Young Folks, 1918, compiled by William Elliot Griffis
  17. Rick Walton - folktale
  18. Sacred texts
  19. Ghosts, Goblins, and Haunted Castles, Aventinum Publishers, 1990 in English, page 51
  20. Glasgow Street Names, Carol Foreman, Birlinn, 2007, page 58.
  21. SF Site
  22. Thompson, William (2005). "Goblins". In Gary Westfahl. The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. 1. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. p. 348. ISBN 0-313-32951-6.
  23. F, S (2008). "Stronghold Creatures". Age Of Heroes. Retrieved 2011-02-24.
  24. The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures by Pierre Dubois, in English 2005
  25. Encyclopedia of Things That Never Were by Michael Page & Robert Ingpen, 1987

Further reading

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