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.