[MSTA ] Fwd: The Origin Of The Word 'Robot'

Aleta Sullivan aletasullivan at gmail.com
Fri Jul 27 13:47:51 CDT 2018


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From: Johanna at Science Diction <jmayer at sciencefriday.com>
Date: Fri, Jul 27, 2018, 9:25 AM
Subject: The Origin Of The Word 'Robot'
To: <aletasullivan at gmail.com>


'Labori' just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
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*Robot*
*First Known Use:*1922

*Etymology:*Czech, and the musings of one playwright and his brother.
Movies featuring robots have graced the box office in recent years, but the
word used to refer to their star characters is a relatively recent one to
the English language—and it got its start not on the silver screen, but on
the stage.
*Robotic Roots*
Robots are everywhere in pop culture, from friend bots (C-3PO! The Iron
Giant! Baymax from *Big Hero 6*!) to more sinister machines (think Ava from *Ex
Machina*, Hal 9000, and the Terminator). Although we may prefer the former,
their namesake originates with the latter.

*Robot* is drawn from the Church Slavonic word* robota*, meaning servitude,
forced labor, or drudgery. “The word also has cognates in German, Russian,
Polish, and Czech. And it's really a product of Central European system of
serfdom, where a tenant’s rent was paid for in forced labor or service,”
historian Howard Markel told Science Friday.

That’s basically the situation in Czech writer Karel Čapek’s play, *Rossum’s
Universal Robots*, or *R.U.R.*, which hit stages in Europe in 1920 and was
the origin of the word as we know it today.
 A scene from *R.U.R.*, showing three robots. Image via Wikimedia Commons
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*'Labori' Just Doesn't Have The Same Ring To It*
*R.U.R.* tells the story of a company that uses the latest technology to
mass-produce biomechanical workers. These robot workers perform all the
work humans don’t want to do, and, perhaps predictably, the robots
eventually revolt against their human overlords. “In the end,” writes
Markel, “there is a deus ex machina moment, when two robots somehow acquire
the human traits of love and compassion and go off into the sunset to make
the world anew.”

In early drafts of the play, says Markel, Čapek dubbed the beings *labori*,
after the Latin root for the word labor, but felt that sounded a bit too
“bookish.” So, at the suggestion of his older brother, the painter and
writer Josef Čapek, he settled on the term *robot*, which would enter the
English lexicon when the play was translated in 1922.
The robots revolt in R.U.R. Image via Wikimedia Commons
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*Sources:*

   - "The Origin Of The Word ‘Robot’"
   <https://sciencefriday.us6.list-manage.com/track/click?u=3155bde08d00356469b4662f5&id=9fbfc217c0&e=27a20f5891>
by
   Howard Markel
   - Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day
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   podcast

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