Hobson’s choice

Hobson’s choice is a term that has been in use since the 1600s. We will look at the meaning of Hobson’s choice, where the term comes from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A Hobson’s choice is one where the alternatives are to either take what is available or nothing at all. While some interpret the definition of  a Hobson’s choice as no choice at all, there is in fact a choice. In this case, the choice is not between two alternatives but between something and nothing at all. Another way to put a Hobson’s choice is “take it or leave it”, an idiom in its own right. The term Hobson’s choice is derived from a particular livery keeper named Thomas Hobson who lived in Cambridge England in the 1600s. When a customer wanted to rent a horse, Hobson would rotate the order in which he let out his livestock. The customer could not choose his mount, he had to either take the horse whose turn it was to be ridden or go away without a mount. Students at Cambridge dubbed this Hobson’s choice. Note that the word Hobson’s is capitalized, as it is a proper name.


In Britain, this is known as Hobson’s Choice, which actually means no choice at all – take it or leave it, rather like the old joke about the first Ford cars: “Any colour you like, so long as it’s black.” (The Times of Malta)

While I hope every eligible American casts a vote, it has been obvious through this endless vituperative campaign that many are making a Hobson’s choice, the lesser of two evils. (The News Journal)

That is, school choice in Nevada has become a Hobson’s choice for the governor and the Legislature, thanks to the 64th legislator. (The Reno Gazette-Journal)

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