a mischievous invisible being, said by airplane pilots in World War II to cause engine trouble and mechanical difficulties.
any cause of trouble, difficulties, etc.

1925–30; of obscure origin; in its earliest attested use, an RAF term for a low-ranking officer or enlisted man assigned the most onerous duties; later development perhaps affected by phonetic resemblance to goblin

1. See goblin. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
gremlin (ˈɡrɛmlɪn)
1.  an imaginary imp jokingly said to be responsible for malfunctions in machinery
2.  any mischievous troublemaker
[C20: perhaps a corruption of goblin]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

"small imaginary creature blamed for mechanical failures," oral use in R.A.F. aviators' slang from Malta, Middle East and India said to date to 1923. First printed use perhaps in poem in journal "Aeroplane" April 10, 1929; certainly in use by 1941, and popularized in World War II and picked up by Americans
(e.g. "New York Times" Magazine April 11, 1943). Possibly from a dial. survival of O.E. gremman "to anger, vex" + -lin of goblin; or from Ir. gruaimin "bad-tempered little fellow." Surfer slang for "young surfer, beach trouble-maker" is from 1961.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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