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Goblin vs. Gremlin: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Updated on June 12, 2024
Goblins are mythical, often malicious creatures from European folklore, while gremlins are more modern, mischievous entities known for sabotaging machinery.

Key Differences

Goblins and gremlins, though sometimes confused, are distinct entities in folklore and popular culture. Goblins are older in the realm of myths, stemming from European legends. They are often portrayed as malicious, cunning, and sometimes even grotesque beings that might live underground or in remote areas, causing harm to humans or seeking treasure. Gremlins, on the other hand, are a relatively modern invention. Their lore revolves around the sabotage of machinery, especially aircraft.
During World War II, pilots would blame unexplained mechanical failures on these mischievous creatures. While goblins are versatile in the roles they play in stories, often being antagonists in fairy tales, gremlins are more specialized, with their mischief largely restricted to machines.
Both have been integrated into modern media, with goblins frequently appearing in fantasy stories and movies and gremlins remembered for the 1980s films where they wreak havoc when specific rules are not followed.

Comparison Chart


European folklore
Modern, linked to 20th-century machinery issues


Often malicious, cunning
Mischievous, known for sabotage


Varies, often grotesque
Small, impish creatures

Associated Stories

Fairy tales, legends
World War II aircraft stories, 1980s movies

Primary Habitat

Underground, forests, remote areas
Near machinery, especially aircraft

Goblin and Gremlin Definitions


A mythical being known for trickery and mischief.
Beware of the goblin that lurks in the shadows, waiting to play its tricks.


A small, impish creature from 20th-century lore.
After the radio malfunctioned, he teased that a gremlin was behind it.


A fantasy antagonist often in stories.
The hero prepared to face the goblin king in the final battle.


A modern, mischievous entity, especially around aircraft.
Mechanical failures were often whimsically blamed on gremlins during the war.


A legendary creature that often seeks treasure.
The old tale spoke of a goblin hoarding gold beneath the mountain.


A mythical saboteur of modern machines.
Some still believe in gremlins causing unexplained technical glitches.


A malicious creature from European folklore.
The goblin guarded the treasure deep within the cave.


A creature known for sabotaging machinery.
The pilot joked that a gremlin must've tampered with his plane.


A grotesque, mischievous fairy-like being.
The woods were rumored to be home to goblins and other mystical creatures.


An entity from popular 1980s films.
The movie showcased the chaos that ensues when gremlins are not handled according to the rules.


A grotesque elfin creature of folklore, thought to work mischief or evil.


Any mysterious, unknown source of mischief or trouble, or the problem created thereby.
We rechecked everything, and we suspect gremlins in the database.


One of various hostile supernatural creatures, now especially (fantasy literature) a malevolent and grotesque diminutive humanoid, often associated with orcs or trolls.


A young, inexperienced surfer, seen as being a nuisance.


An evil or mischievous spirit; a playful or malicious elf; a frightful phantom; a gnome.
To whom the goblin, full of wrath, replied.


An imaginary gnomelike creature to whom mechanical problems, especially in aircraft, are attributed.


(folklore) a small grotesque supernatural creature that makes trouble for human beings


A maker of mischief.


(obsolete) A contemptible person.


An imaginary creature reputed to be mischievously inclined to damage or dismantle machinery.


(by extension)


(folklore) fairies that are somewhat mischievous


Are gremlins always associated with machinery?

Mostly, especially aircraft, but they've expanded in popular culture.

Are goblins and gremlins the same?

No, goblins are from European folklore, while gremlins are known for sabotaging machinery.

Which is older in origin, goblin or gremlin?

Goblins are older, originating from European legends.

Can goblins be friendly?

While often portrayed as malicious, some stories depict them neutrally or even positively.

Why are gremlins linked to aircraft sabotage?

During WWII, unexplained aircraft issues were humorously blamed on these mythical saboteurs.

Are goblins intelligent?

In many tales, they're cunning and crafty.

Have gremlins been featured in movies?

Yes, notably in the 1980s "Gremlins" films.

Is the concept of a gremlin universal?

It's more Western, particularly linked to the 20th century and machinery.

Were gremlins created during World War II?

The concept was popularized then, especially among pilots, but they've since grown in legend.

What do goblins typically look like?

Descriptions vary, but they're often portrayed as small, grotesque beings.

Can gremlins be good?

While mischievous, they're not inherently evil, but their portrayal can vary.

Are there friendly goblins in stories?

Yes, not all stories portray them as malicious; some can be neutral or friendly.

Are goblins part of a larger folklore family?

Yes, they're among various fairy-like or small mystical beings in European legends.

Do gremlins have a specific appearance?

They're often depicted as small, impish creatures, but portrayals can vary.

Can gremlins speak?

In popular culture, especially movies, they've been given the ability to speak or make noises.

What's a goblin's favorite activity?

Stories often involve them causing mischief, seeking treasure, or guarding something.

Are goblins real?

They're mythical beings, part of folklore and stories.

Why are gremlins called "gremlins"?

The origin is unclear, but it may derive from the Old English word "gremian," meaning "to vex."

Which is more popular in modern culture, goblin or gremlin?

Both have their niches, but goblins are more widespread in fantasy, while gremlins are remembered for specific films and the aircraft lore.

Do goblins have a particular habitat?

Often underground, forests, or remote areas in legends.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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