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[grem-lin] /ˈgrɛm lɪn/
a mischievous invisible being, said by airplane pilots in World War II to cause engine trouble and mechanical difficulties.
any cause of trouble, difficulties, etc., especially in a mechanical, electrical, or other system:
A loose wire was the gremlin that blew out the lights.
Origin of gremlin
First recorded in 1925-30; of obscure origin; in its earliest attested use, an RAF term for a low-ranking officer or enlisted man assigned the most onerous duties; later development perhaps affected by phonetic resemblance to goblin
1. See goblin. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018.
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Examples from the Web for gremlin
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  • Whatever the gremlin was, it wasn't exactly an auspicious start for a fifty million-mile hop.

    Deepfreeze Robert Donald Locke
British Dictionary definitions for gremlin


an imaginary imp jokingly said to be responsible for malfunctions in machinery
any mischievous troublemaker
Word Origin
C20: perhaps a corruption of goblin
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for gremlin

"small imaginary creature blamed for mechanical failures," oral use in R.A.F. aviators' slang from Malta, Middle East and India said to date to 1923. First printed use perhaps in poem in journal "Aeroplane" April 10, 1929; certainly in use by 1941, and popularized in World War II and picked up by Americans (e.g. "New York Times" Magazine April 11, 1943). Of unknown origin. Speculations in Barnhart are a possible dialectal survival of Old English gremman "to anger, vex" + the -lin of goblin; or Irish gruaimin "bad-tempered little fellow." Surfer slang for "young surfer, beach trouble-maker" is from 1961 (short form gremmie by 1962).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for gremlin



  1. An imaginary imp who caused malfunction in machines, problems in projects, confusion in arrangements, etc •The Royal Naval Air Service apparently used the term in WWI (WWII Army Air Forces fr British)
  2. also grem, gremmie) A person, esp a girl, who frequents surfing beaches without surfing; beach bunny: gremlins, usually girls, those hangers-on who may never get wet (1960s+ Surfers)

[origin unknown; probably modeled on goblin, with the first syllable perhaps fr Irish gruaimin, ''irascible little creature'']

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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