[ 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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for gremlin

British Dictionary definitions for gremlin


/ (ˈɡrɛmlɪn) /


an imaginary imp jokingly said to be responsible for malfunctions in machinery
any mischievous troublemaker

Word Origin for gremlin

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

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