gremlins


gremlins
   A subspecies of *goblin which evolved early in the 20th century, probably during the First World War; certainly their existence was acknowledged (with dismay) by members of the RAF during the 1920s. They are reported to be anything from six inches to two feet in height, greenish or grey, sometimes with horns or hairy ears, and wearing a wide variety of colourful and eccentric clothing. Their original speciality was causing otherwise inexplicable malfunctions in the engines, electrical circuits, and other operational parts of aircraft, drinking up petrol, and tampering with landing strips on airfields. They have since diversified, and apply their expertise to virtually any type of machinery, the more complex the better; one group has become skilled in producing misprints. They often laugh uproariously at the success of their activities, a trait which may indicate kinship to *Puck and *Robin Goodfellow.
   Accounts of the appearance and behaviour of gremlins circulated orally among British airmen stationed in Malta, the Middle East, and India during the 1920s and 1930s; the first printed record seems to be a poem in the journal Aeroplane on 10 April 1929. They were much discussed, both orally and in print, in the RAF and the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War. Interest in them spread to the civilian press (e.g. Punch (11 Nov. 1942), Spectator (1 Jan. 1943), several issues of N&Q, 1943), and reached America (New York Times Magazine (11 Apr. 1943), Time (28 Sept. 1943)). In recent years, they have become the subject of cinematic investigation by Joe Danke which revealed hitherto unknown aspects of their biology, metabolism, and personalities (Gremlins, 1984, and Gremlins II, 1990).
   The origin of the word 'gremlin' itself is obscure. RAF tradition links it with Fremlins beer, though opinions differ as to whether this is because the first gremlin seen was a goblin swimming in a tankard of Fremlins, or because it appeared to a group of officers who were drinking Fremlins and reading Grimm's Fairy Tales simultaneously.
   When speaking or writing about gremlins, it is essential to present the information with as much ingenious detail as possible, and to preserve an attitude of total conviction.
   ■ John W. Hazen in Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology and Legend, ed. Maria Leach (New York, 1949; 3rd edn. 1972), 465-6; Gillian Edwards, Hobgoblin and Sweet Puck (1974), 209-24; P. Beale, Concise Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English (1989).

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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