English university slang term, supposedly a reference to Thomas Hobson (c.1544-1631), Cambridge stable manager who let horses and gave customers a choice of the horse next in line or none at all. Phrase popularized c.1660 by Milton, who was at Cambridge from 1625-29.
An apparently free choice that actually offers no alternative. For example, My dad said if I wanted the car I could have it tonight or not at all—that's Hobson's choice. This expression alludes to Thomas Hobson of Cambridge, England, who rented horses and allowed each customer to take only the horse nearest the stable door. [Mid-1600s]