Mysteries of vernacular: Robot
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Mysteries of vernacular.
Robot, a machine capable of carrying out a programmable series of actions.
The origin of the word robot dates back more than a thousand years to the era of serfdom in central Europe when servitude was the currency for rent.
In those days, the Old Church Slavonic word rabota described the forced labor of the people.
A slight adjustment of spelling, and rabota became the Czech robota,
which, in addition to defining the toil of the serfs, was also used figuratively to describe any kind of hard work or drudgery.
In 1920, Czech writer Karel Capek published a science fiction play called "R. U. R. ", short for "Rossum's Universal Robots. "
The story featured automated machines with distinctly human features that, until they revolt, catered to the whims of the people of Earth.
Capek originally considered calling these hard-working machines labori from the Latin word for labor, but he worried it sounded a bit too scholarly.
He opted, instead, to emphasize their enslaved state by naming them roboti, or robot in English.
"R. U. R. " was wildly successful, and when it was translated into English in 1923, the word robot was enthusiastically embraced.
Though most of today's robots look quite different than Capek imagined, they've become just as popular as he predicted.
Unlike in "R. U. R. ", though, our robots haven't risen up against us, and here's hoping it stays that way!