ro·bot (rōbŏt′, -bət)
1. A mechanical device that sometimes resembles a human and is capable of performing a variety of often complex human tasks on command or by being programmed in advance.
2. A machine or device that operates automatically or by remote control.
3. A person who works mechanically without original thought, especially one who responds automatically to the commands of others.
4. A form of urban dance involving a succession of separate movements executed with precision in imitation of a robot.
[Czech, from robota, drudgery; see orbh- in the Appendix of Indo-European roots.]
Word History: Robot has been in English since 1923, when Karel Čapek's 1921 play R.U.R. was translated into English from Czech and presented in London and New York. The play's title, R.U.R., is an abbreviation of Rossum's Universal Robots, the name of a corporation in the play that makes robots to serve as slave labor for humanity. However, Čapek's robots—the original robots—are quite different from the standard-issue robots of later 20th-century science fiction, such as C3PO and R2D2 of Star Wars, that seem to be assembled from metal, silicon, and other non-biological materials. Čapek's robots are assembled out of something like flesh and blood, made according to a secret formula. Their flesh is mixed like dough in mixing machines and their nerves and veins are spun out on spinners. Eventually, during the course of the play, the robots grow tired of their subservient position and stage a rebellion that places the very future of humanity in peril. The robots take over the world, but it becomes clear that they also feel emotions like love and are worthy successors to humanity. Robot and robotka, the words Čapek uses in Czech for the male and female versions of these sentient biological automatons, are derived from the Czech word robota, "servitude, forced labor."
The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2022 by HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.
Indo-European & Semitic Roots Appendices
Thousands of entries in the dictionary include etymologies that trace their origins back to reconstructed proto-languages. You can obtain more information about these forms in our online appendices:
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