Ralph Waldo Emerson said:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.

I understand the quote. But Wikipedia doesn't explain the origin of the following signification? It differs from the original that portrays hobgoblins as guileful. Was there some semantic shift?

The term "hobgoblin" is used sometimes to mean a superficial object that is a source of (often imagined) fear or trouble.

1 Answer 1


Sense 2 of "Hobgoblin" in my OED is

fig. An object which inspires superstitious dread or apprehension; a bogy, bugbear.

It gives citations dating from 1709 to 1841-2, the latter being the very Emerson quotation you ask about. Emerson (then aged in his late 30's, so hardly, as was insinuated in an earlier edit of the question, a whippersnapper) apparently used the word correctly in a way it had been used for more than a century.

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