Hobson's choice

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jul 7 01:55:50 UTC 2013

Great minds with but a single choice.  From the New York Times Book Review delivered in hard copy today:


Last paragraph of review by Joshua Cohen (presupposing that we all know what a "carrier" was in the 17th c.):

The problem of how to treat this novel, with its traumas so rigged and rictus so fixed, finally approximates another British dilemma: “Hobson’s choice,” named after Thomas Hobson, a carrier and stable owner who came of age during the reign of Elizabeth I. Whenever Hobson wasn’t using his horses to deliver goods, he rented them out, and in order to ensure their fair rotation adopted the policy that each customer had to accept the next horse available, or none at all. “Take it or leave it” — the only catch phrase for dark literature, and dark life.


On Jul 5, 2013, at 3:57 PM, ADSGarson O'Toole wrote:

> OED has a citation from Hobson's choice in 1660 and that seems to be
> the earliest currently known. Back on 2009 Fred sent a message to the
> ADS list about the term when he was searching Early English Books
> Online. The 1660 cite was the earliest cite in EEBO in 2009. Has
> anyone searched EEBO or other appropriate databases recently?
> I was asked to explore this term and have a question for list members.
> The book below contained several epitaphs for "Hobson the Carrier".
> Further below is one epitaph. Do you think this epitaph might refer to
> the choice of a single horse (or carrier) that was offered by Hobson?
> Does the phrase "Six Carriers" refer to the group carrying a coffin
> (i.e., pallbearers, though the term was no yet in use, apparently)?
> Alternatively, could it refer to a team of horses?
> Year: 1640
> Title: Witts recreations: Selected from the finest Fancies of Moderne
> Muses: With A Thousand out Landish Proverbs
> Author: George Herbert; William Marshall
> Publisher: London : Printed by R[ichard] H[odgkinson and Thomas Paine]
> for Humphry Blunden at the Castle in Corn-hill
> (The above bibliographic data is from WorldCat)
> http://books.google.com/books?id=j7_bpWjze40C&q=carriage
> [Begin excerpt]
> He that such carriage store, was wont to have,
> Is carried now himselfe unto his grave:
> O strange! he that in life ne're made but one,
> Six Carriers makes, now he is dead and gone.
> [End excerpt]
> Garson
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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