Who did invent the word “robot” and what does it mean? Some people think it was Karel Capek, a Czech novelist and playwright, the one who came up with the word.
But, contrary to the popular opinion, Karel Capek, the author of the play RUR is not the inventor of the word robot. The word, which is derived from the Czech noun “robota” meaning “labour” is an accomplishment of Capek’s older brother, the cubist painter and writer Josef Capek.
The word first appeared in the play RUR published in 1920. Some claim that the word “robot” was first used in Josef Capek’s short story Opilec (the Drunkard) published in the collection Lelio in 1917. According to the Capek brother’s Society in Prague, this is not correct. The word used in Opilec is “automat”.
The following article by Karel Capek tells the whole story in detail:
About the Word Robot
(translated by Norma Comrada)
A reference by Professor Chudoba, to the Oxford Dictionary account of the word Robot’s origin and its entry into the English language, reminds me of an old debt. The author of the play R.U.R. did not, in fact, invent that word; he merely ushered it into existence. It was like this: the idea for the play came to said author in a single, unguarded moment. And while it was still warm he rushed immediately to his brother Josef, the painter, who was standing before an easel and painting away at a canvas till it rustled.
“Listen, Josef,” the author began, “I think I have an idea for a play.”
“What kind,” the painter mumbled (he did mumble because at
the moment he was holding a brush in his mouth).
The author told him as briefly as he could.
“Then write it,” the painter remarked, without taking the brush
from his mouth or halting work on the canvas. The indifference was quite insulting.
“But,” the author said, “I don’t know what to call these artificial
workers. I could call them Labori, but that strikes me as a bit bookish.”
“Then call them Robots,” the painter muttered, brush in mouth, and went on painting. And that’s how it was. Thus was the word Robot born.