The word "robot" originated in this 1921 Czech play

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/08/08/the-word-robot-originated.html

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Its Slavic linguistic root, “rab,” means “slave.”

It’s also the root of the Russian word for “work” in general, which in and of itself goes a long way toward explaining the amount of time and energy that the typical Russian employee has willingly put into his job throughout history. No Protestant Work Ethic for them!

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How tremendously depressing.

Thank you.

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Karel Čapek wrote other interesting stuff too, and is well worth a look.

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I bought a copy 20 something years ago just for the sake of understanding the history of the word. If I recall correctly, his robots were vaguely explained as “made from other stuff,” so rather than artificially intelligent metal humanoids, it was more like making silicon-based people instead of carbon-based.

One I read long ago is his “War with the Newts”; satirical sci-fi, sort of in the same vein as Harry Harrison’s “Bill, The Galactic Hero”, but coming from a somewhat darker place. Very worth reading.

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https://theinfosphere.org/Chapek_9

The word robot existed before and referred to a form of corvee labour used in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This gives some wonderful quotes when taken out of context:

The general assumption has always been that since robot labour was so much more inefficient than wage labour…

or

… the will of the peasants to be rid of the Robot…

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R.U.R. was required reading in one of my high school English classes. I only mention this because I find it sad that it is now being treated as a kind of recondite esoterica.

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It’s a really bad stereotype, but I guess people have to feel superior to someone.
I wonder what would happen to that “Protestant Work Ethic” under so many years of oppressive regimes, hopelessness, and forced poverty.
For example this is what their previous regime did to people who were more prosperous than their neighbors:



Things like this do send a clear message to population.

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In my defense, it was Russians I knew (including, co-incidentally, a scholar of the Holodomor) who introduced me to and repeated the wry linguistic joke. The sense I got was that it was a positive, rebellious stereotype in the vein of “you pretend to pay us, we pretend to work”. As someone who loathes the Protestant Work Ethic I was always kind of on board with them, so more sympathy than superiority.

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R.U.R. is quite familiar to crossword addicts.

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A favourite of mine.

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Yay, Czechs in the news!

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I’m just here to promote War with the Newts.

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Modest fellow. :slight_smile:

:lizard: I’m here for War With the Newts too! :lizard:

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Looks like the gates holding back WWtN readers have been unbarred. :slight_smile:

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Karel Čapek was also Public Enemy no. 2 on the Gestapo’s list when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, but they never caught him. Sadly this is because he died of pneumonia before they came to arrest him.

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