What's in a Word | All Blogs


Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

By Debra Dobbins

      


“Domo Arigato, Mr. Roboto
(Thank you very much oh Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs that nobody wants to)”

Listening to “Mr. Roboto” released by the rock group Styx in 1983, we could easily assume that “robot” came into English from Japanese. If so, we’d be thousands of miles off the mark.

According to Wikipedia, the word comes from "robota meaning literally ‘serf labor,’ and, figuratively, ‘drudgery’ or ‘hard work’ in Czech, Slovak and Polish.”

Wikipedia further explains that an influential Czech writer made the word popular. Karel Capek used “robota” in his 1921 play R.U.R. (Russian Universal Robots). Wikipedia also notes that Capek gave credit for the word choice to his brother, Josef Capek, a painter and writer who eventually lost his life in a Nazi concentration camp.

For more about the Capeks and their choice of this word, go to http://www.capekbrothers.net/word_robot.htm.  For more on robot cars, see the print edition or the e-edition of The Daily Sentinel.

photo and signature of Karel Capek courtesy of Wikipedia.

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