THE ORIGIN OF THE WORD "ROBOT"
by Voyen Koreis
Karel Čapek in the Czech daily Lidove Noviny on the Christmas Eve 1933 writes about it thus:
Prof. Chudoba mentioning the entry on the word “robot” in the Oxford Dictionary reminds me of an old debt. The word was not thought out by the author of R.U.R., in fact he only facilitated its introduction. It happened like this:
In an unguarded moment an idea about a play came to the author. While still hot, he took it to his brother Josef, the painter, who was standing at his easel merrily painting away.
“Look Josef”, the author said, “I got an idea for a play.”
“What is it about?”, growled the painter (literally growled, because he held the brush in his mouth).
The author explained in a nutshell what it was about.
“Well, write it down”, said the painter without taking the brush out of his mouth nor stopping to paint on his canvass. It was almost insultingly indolent.
“But I don’t know”, said the author, “how to call those artificial workers. I thought about calling them labors, but it doesn’t sound right to me.”
“Well, call them robots,” muttered the painter with the brush in his mouth and continued painting. And that was it. This is how the word robot was born; let it be accredited to its true begetter.
So now we know that Karel Čapek had intended to name the
artificial creatures “labors”, derived from the Latin word for labour,
but somehow he did not like the sound of it. One cannot blame him; just
imagine owning and using kitchen labors or attending a seminar
on laborics..! My guess is that the word probably would not
have caught on at all, and we would now be using kitchen whatevers or
even something more sinister for the same job.
The Robots in R.U.R. are created by a scientist, inevitably a mad one, to free the humans from the drudgery and elevate them to the higher spheres of learning. When things go wrong and there is an uprising, it resembles all those others staged by slaves in various places throughout the centuries, however with an even more profound impact.
The Čapek Brothers