"Where to elect there is but one, 'tis Hobson's choice -- take that or none." - Thomas Ward

According to Brewster's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, the phrase "Hobson's Choice", originated with one Tobias Hobson, innkeeper, and passed into common usage as early as 1638, as the above quote suggests.

Tobias Hobson was a carrier and innkeeper at Cambridge, who provided horses for rent, especially to students. Knowing that his customers frequently rode his horses hard, he kept his stables well, keeping those horses most recently ridden at the back of the stable, and the remainder at the front. His rule was simple: if you want to rent a horse, you were offered the one nearest the stable door. The choice was this - the proffered horse, or Shank's Pony. Brewsters Dictionary online: http://www.bibliomania.com/2/3/255/frameset.html

"He kept a stable of forty good cattle, always ready and fit for travelling; but when a man came for a horse he was led into the stable, where there was great choice, but was obliged to take the horse which stood nearest to the stable-door; so that every customer was alike well served, according to his chance, and every horse ridden with the same justice."
Henry Ford is alleged to have said that his cars came in "any color, as long as it's black" - a good example of Hobson's Choice being offered.

"Hobson's Choice" is also a 1916 play by Harold Brighouse, filmed by David Lean in 1953, starring John Mills and Charles Laughton. The film won the British Film Institute "Best Film" award of 1954.

Set in Salford, it tells the story of a cobbler, Henry Hobson, and his declining influence on his daughter, as she becomes more involved with Will Mossop, one of his employees. Hobson is obliged to accept that his daughter has a right to a life of her own, and Mossop comes to accept his potential as a rival businessman. The play tells of the gradually resolving conflicts, as the inevitability of limited choice becomes apparent to each character.

Hob"son's choice" (?).

A choice without an alternative; the thing offered or nothing.

⇒ It is said to have had its origin in the name of one Hobson, at Cambridge, England, who let horses, and required every customer to take in his turn the horse which stood next the stable door.


© Webster 1913.

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