No definition needed, but the etymology of is word is interesting to me. I learned it at the recent MOMA exhibit Century of The Child: Growing By Design.

The word Robot is of Czech origin. It comes from the Czech word robota meaning “forced labor” as in serfs.

Not many English words from Czech, I imagine. The word was first used in the play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek. The play is about the creation of artificial humanoid workers that rebel against their masters. Here is an trailer for the play.

Before the play, the work automaton, which dates back to the early 17th century, was used. The word was used for any machine that operated on its own. Over time, many of these machines took on human shapes. One of the most famous was the chess-playing Turk.

The word android was also of much earlier origin, dating back to the 1728, where there is record of one Albertus Magnus making “Androides.”

Not long after R.U.R., the word robot chiefly replaced both of those words. Android continued to survive to refer to mechanical beings made of flesh and bone while robots are usually made of metal. It is ironic because the original androids were metal while Čapek’s robots were synthetic flesh.
sources: MOMA, the OED, and Wikipedia


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