Where Does the Expression “to Raise or Play Hob” Come From and What Does It Mean?

The expression “to raise or play hob” means: to raise Cain; play the devil; make mischief.

In English folklore, “Hob” was the familiar name of the sprite, Robin Goodfellow, the household spirit full of mischievous, sometimes malicious, acts, the being who, at least, received the blame.

Shakespeare, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, gives him also his earliest English name, Puck, dating back at least to the eleventh century, and thus describes him in Act II, scene 1:

Fairy: Either I mistake your shape and making quite, Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he That frights the maidens of the villagery; Skim milk, and sometimes labour in the quern, And bootless make the breathless housewife churn; And sometime make the drink to bear no barm, Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm? Those that Hobgoblin call you, and sweet Puck, You do their work, and they shall have good luck: Are not you he?

Puck: Thou speak’st aright;
I am that merry wanderer of the night.
I jest to Oberon, and make him smile,
When I a fat and bean-fed horse beguile,
Neighing in likeness of a silly foal:
And sometimes lurk I in a gossip’s bowl,
In very likeness of a roasted crab;
And when she drinks, against her lips I bob
And on her withered dewlap pour the ale.
The wisest aunt, telling the saddest tale,
Sometime for three-foot stool mistaketh me;
Then slip I from her bum, down topples she,
And “tailor” cries, and falls into a cough;
And then the whole quire hold their hips and laugh;
And waxen in their mirth, and neeze, and swear
A merrier hour was never wasted there.

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