Where to elect there is but one.
’Tis Hobson’s choice — take that or none.
When, years ago, you went to buy a Ford, and the auto dealer said take any color as long as it’s black, you were given Hobson’s choice. The choice boils down to no choice at all because there is no alternative. A person driven to a single course of action has only a Hobson’s choice.
The phrase originated from the practice of Thomas Hobson (15441631), a liveryman in seventeenth-century Cambridge, England, whose customers, especially the students from the university, if unrestricted, would always select his fastest horses and ride them to exhaustion. He knew, as he put it, that «scholars ride hard». Knowing that the welfare of the horses would be best served if they were used in rotation, he established a rule that his customers could not select a horse of their own choosing but had to hire the one he placed nearest the stable door, which was the horse that had had the most rest. The customer could accept the offer or reject it — that is, ride off or walk.
Hobson was a well-known character in his day. He amassed a fortune during his lifetime, owned a half-dozen manor houses, and left sufficient funds to maintain a public aqueduct and fountain in the Cambridge marketplace. The poet John Milton knew Hobson as a young man, and wrote a humorous epitaph upon his death, which included the lines:
Ease was his chief disease; and to judge right,
He died for heaviness that his cart went light;
His leisure told him that his time was come,
And lack of load made his life burdensome.