Skip to main content

Where does the word robot come from?



A rare example of a Czech word ('robota') entering English:

robot was introduced to the public by the Czech interwar writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920. The play begins in a factory that makes artificial people called robots, though they are closer to the modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. They can plainly think for themselves, though they seem happy to serve. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of their treatment.  
Čapek credited his brother Josef with coming up with the word robot and wrote to the Oxford English Dictionary to correct their etymology. Karel had originally used another neologism labori based on the Latin word for work, labor, but was dissatisfied. His brother then pointed to the Czech word robota, which carries the suggestion of surf labour or slave.

Kathleen Richardson points out in this BBC broadcast that our notions about robots continue to be fanciful. Despite remarkable progress in robotic, they are still comparatively clumsy, ineffective machines:


A version of this post is included in the English FAQ Teaching Pack  Download for only £2.99


Japanese Androids Train for First Ever Robot Marathon

Comments

  1. Probably from Japan! They've always been trying to create new technologies and machines, so it should be possible!

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's Czech word :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. To B Or... Not To B.

    The first part spelled backwards and it's right there in the cartoon. Is this some sort of Rod Sterling moment that no one is seeing this but me?

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What is Globish?

Globish is a term invented by a French business man, Jean-Paul Nerriere, to describe the form English used as a lingua franca or common world language.

Top 10 words with the most entries in the Oxford English Dictionary?

Here are the words with the most separate entries in the OED: