They are attributed with various (sometimes conflicting) abilities, temperaments and appearances depending on the story and country of origin. In some cases, goblins have been classified as constantly annoying little creatures somewhat related to the brownie and gnome. They are usually depicted as small, sometimes only a few inches tall, sometimes the size of a dwarf. They also often are said to possess various magical abilities.
English goblin was borrowed from Old French gobelin, rendered as Medieval Latin gobelinus, of uncertain origin. It may be related to German kobold or to Medieval Latin cabalus, itself from Greek kobalos "rogue" or "knave". Alternatively, it may be a diminutive of the proper name Gobel.
Alternative spellings include gobblin, gobeline, gobling, and goblyn.
Illustration of a goblinIn "The Goblin Field" (Moldova), Goblins were described as 2–3 feet tall, thin, and brown. Most were bald and "if there were females among the group they could not be distinguished from the males". They seemed to exist in two realms, one physical and one spirit. They were fiercely loyal and allied with particular sorcerer or witch tribes, whom they protected and served as an equally allied tribe rather than servants or slaves. "This perception might seem a bit strange to any not accustomed to the goblin outlook" because the goblins often did what might be considered slave work for very little reward.
They could be called by an allied individual or group, summoned by spell, or called to bargain at particular places by individuals or groups not known to them. Because of their power they were much sought after, but because of the corruption of mankind, rarely found. Crossing them was a thing to avoid as they had refined a grudge to a fine art. They could be fierce and mind-numbingly frightening, and only the hardiest of souls were sent to strike a bargain with them. However they had a side which few ever saw, which was their great love for those who were able to create an understanding and friendship with them. At the passing of such a person, they would treat the body with proper respect and then quietly weep.
- The Benevolent Goblin, from Gesta Romanorum (England)
- The Boy Who Drew Cats (Japanese fairy tale)
- Chinese Ghouls and Goblins (England 1928)
- Erlking is a malevolent goblin from German legend.
- The Goblin of Adachigahara (Japanese fairy tale)
- The Goblin Pony, from The Grey Fairy Book (French fairy tale)
- The Goblins at the Bath House (Estonia), from A Book of Ghosts and Goblins (1969)
- The Goblins Turned to Stone (Dutch fairy tale) 
- Gwyn ap Nudd was ruler over the goblin tribe. (Welsh folklore) 
- Shiva has a cohort of goblins and ghouls (India).
- Twenty-Two Goblins (Indian fairy tale)
- King Gobb (Moldovan Gypsy folktale)
- 'The Gap of Goeblin', a hole and underground tunnel in Mortain, France.
- Goblin Combe, in north Somerset, UK
- Goblin Valley State Park, Utah, U.S.
- Goblin Crescent, Bryndwr, Christchurch, NZ
- Yester Castle (aka 'Goblin Hall') East Lothian, Scotland
- Goblin Bay, Beausoleil Island, Ontario, Canada
- Harrison High School, Harrison Golden Goblins, Harrison, AR
- Cowcaddens and Cowlairs, Glasgow, Scotland. 'Cow' is an old Scots word for Goblin, while 'cad' means 'nasty'. 'Dens' and 'lairs' refers to goblin homes. 
- The Goblins, a comedy play by Sir John Suckling (1638 England; the title alludes to thieves rather than actual goblins)
- The Pilgrim's Progress, a Christian allegory by John Bunyan (1678 England), includes the words "Men: ...we also saw there the hobgoblins, satyrs, and dragons of the pit;"
- Goblin Market, a poem by Christina Rossetti (1859 England)
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald (1872)
- Davy and the Goblin by Charles E. Carryl  (1884)
- The 19th century Irish song "Rocky Road to Dublin" includes the words "I cut a stout blackthorn, to banish ghosts and goblins".
- Little Orphant Annie, a poem by James Whitcomb Riley, includes the words "An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you ef you don't watch out!" (1885)
The orcs in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are identified as goblins. These works, featuring goblins of almost-human stature, generally informed the depiction of goblins in later fiction and games.
Goblins are portrayed as roughly half the size of adult humans as non-player characters in the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, which influenced most later depictions including the games Akalabeth, Ultima, Tibia, RuneScape and World of Warcraft (they become a playable race in the WoW expansion World of Warcraft: Cataclysm). In the 1980s Goblins were depicted as a separate race subservient to the Orcs in the Games Workshop tabletop game Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Games Workshop also popularized the depiction of goblins with bright green skin. Warcraft adopted both of these concepts from Warhammer. The Warcraft goblins are very technologically advanced. Goblins are also present as the first tier creature in the Orc faction in Heroes of Might and Magic V: Tribes of the East.
Goblins are represented in Magic: The Gathering as a species of predominantly green-colored creatures generally organized into various tribes, and are usually depicted as fierce and war-mongering, but of comically low intelligence. Most are similar to other depictions of goblins save those of the Akki race, which bear chitinous shells on their backs.
Goblins play an important role in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series, wherein goblins guard the wizard bank Gringotts and are portrayed as clever, arrogant, greedy, and churlish. The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy by Clare B. Dunkle features a creative re-imagining of goblins, elves, and dwarves.
The Complete Encyclopedia of Elves, Goblins, and Other Little Creatures depicts them as originating in the British Isles, from whence they spread by ship to all of Continental Europe. They have no homes, being wanderers, dwelling temporarily in mossy cracks in rocks and tree roots.
Jack Prelutsky's children's poetry book It's Halloween includes a poem called "The Goblin", in which a little boy describes "A goblin as green as a goblin can be, Who is sitting outside and is waiting for me".
In Enid Blyton's Noddy children's books and their adaptations appear small humanoids called 'goblins', who are often very mischievous.
There are many (human) villains in the Spider-Man franchise whose names include the word "goblin", and who use a goblin motif, such as several incarnations of the Green Goblin as well as Hobgoblin and Demogoblin.
In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the goblins appear as green-skinned creatures, a little shorter than humans, carrying iron weapons and sometimes lockpicks. They are seen as "dirty little beasts", and can be found in sewers or abandoned houses and forts.
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl depicts goblins as reptilian entities having lidless eyes, forked tongues, and scaly skin. The goblins in the series are dull-witted and have an ability to conjure fireballs.
In The Spiderwick Chronicles, goblins are portrayed as small, grotesque toadlike creatures born without teeth who therefore use broken glass and rocks as dentition. They have a chaotic behaviour and will only behave orderly if ordered so by a more powerful villain, such as the ogre Mulgarath.
The 1973 film Don't Be Afraid of the Dark portrays a house infested with goblins, it was remade in 2011. In both versions the Goblins are small, intelligent, nimble and evil creatures with a penchant for preying on children. They feed on human teeth and are afraid of light.
In 1907 the American James Murray Spangler, who was employed as a cleaner, designed the first miniature electric cleaner, but sold the patent to a harness maker named Hoover. By the 1920s a man named Bothe began producing a range of electric cleaners under the name 'Goblin'. Goblin started manufacturing in 1933, bringing out a radio alarm clock in 1947, but it took another 30 years to combine the pair.