Information & Library Science

  • noun a tiny mischievous spirit said to be the cause of an unexplained problem or fault, especially in a machine or system


  • noun an imaginary goblin who is blamed for unexplained mechanical failures in aircraft
  • noun
    (written as Gremlin)
    an SA-14, Soviet-designed hand-held surface-to-air missile (SAM)


  • noun an unexplained flaw, malfunction or error. A word used particularly by British soldiers in World War I and American airmen in World War II, evoking a malicious spirit. (The word is a form of the Irish gruaimin, meaning a bad-tempered little fellow.).

Origin & History of “gremlin”

Gremlin originated as royal Air force slang, as the name of a mischievous imp that caused malfunctions and crashes. It is first recorded in 1941, but it is said to go back to the early 1920s. It is generally assumed that its latter part comes from goblin, but speculation has been rife and diverse as to the source of its first syllable: from the scholarly (Old English gremman ‘make angry’) to the inventively popular (a blend of goblin with Fremlin, the name of a well-known firm of brewers).