What is the meaning and origin of ‘Hobson’s choice’? (K. Indumathi, Trichy)
This expression, which has been part of the English language for well over five hundred years, is seldom heard nowadays. When you say that something is ‘Hobson’s choice’, what you are suggesting is that it is no choice at all. If you do not take what has been offered or given, you do not get anything at all. You either take what has been offered to you or go home empty handed — there is no real alternative.
We didn’t want to include Venkatesh in the team. But it was a case of Hobson’s choice. Three of our players were injured, and he was the only one who was fit.
If it’s a blue car that you’d like to hire, then it’s a Hobson’s choice, I’m afraid. This is the only one that’s available.
Thomas Hobson was a stable owner who lived in England in the late 16th century. He rented horses from his stable to people who needed them — these were mostly students from Cambridge. Hobson took good care of his animals, and to ensure that none of them was overworked, he followed a strict rotation policy. Whenever a rented horse was returned, it was taken to the end of the line. The horse that was to be rented next would be at the front of the line and placed near the stable door. When someone came for a horse, he was instructed to take the horse near the door. If the individual did not like the horse and requested for another animal, Hobson told him to try his luck at some other stable. As far as Hobson was concerned, the customer had a choice — he could either take the horse near the stable door or go home empty handed. In other words, Hobson had a strict ‘take it or leave it’ policy.
The easiest way to pronounce the word is to make it rhyme with ‘shower’, ‘power’ and ‘tower’. Some people in our country make it rhyme with ‘sore’, ‘pore’ and ‘bore’. It is wrong to do so. We normally associate sour with taste — anything that has a sharp or tangy taste, we label as ‘sour’. The fruit that immediately comes to mind when we hear the word ‘sour’ is the lemon. A mango that is not ripe usually tastes sour. The word can also be used in other contexts as well. It can be used to describe an individual. For example, when you describe someone’s face as being ‘sour’, what you are suggesting is that the individual looks unfriendly or bad tempered.
Why Kamala married that sour-faced Hari is still a mystery.
My boss gave me a sour look when I walked into his room.
‘Sour’ can also be used to talk about relationships. When you say that the relationship between two people has soured, what you are suggesting is that it is no longer as good as it was earlier — they are no longer as friendly as they used to be. The relationship has become strained, and things have become rather unpleasant.
After the divorce, Vinay’s attitude to life changed completely — it soured.
With the passage of time, the relationship between the partners soured.
I am not a teacher, but an awakener.