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Monday, November 17, 2008

Robotnik

The other evening I was reading when I stumbled across a new word: Robotnik. It is Russian for worker, and the name of a Moscow club in the novel I was reading. My steel-trap mind immediately connected the word to robot. A word that I have always associated with Isaac Asimov; and again, I thought, that makes sense. Asimov was born in Russia and immigrated to the United States as a child.

Well I did a little research and I discovered that I was in error about Asimov’s creation of the word robot, as far as its use as a term to describe a mechanical man. He did use the base to coin the term robotics, but robot was actually first used in the play RUR written by Karel Capek. I can almost hear you groan, what’s the difference. Well, according to Dictionary.com quite a bit and not much, all at the same time.

Robot

–noun
1. a machine that resembles a human and does mechanical, routine tasks on command.

2. a person who acts and responds in a mechanical, routine manner, usually subject to another's will; automaton.

3. any machine or mechanical device that operates automatically with humanlike skill.

–adjective
4. operating automatically: a robot train operating between airline terminals.

Robotics

–noun (used with a singular verb)

the use of computer-controlled robots to perform manual tasks, esp. on an assembly line.

The major difference is the human creation of the functioning machine. Robotics stresses the idea of computer-control and human servitude; humans program, design, study and create in robotics. While a robot is something that is machine-like and not necessarily created by humanity. It can actually be used to describe a person and therefore it is not under the control or supervision of humanity, but rather something slightly less than human but very much more than a machine; something to fear.

The idea of robot is given a sinister cast when its root word robotnik is defined. Robotnik is a Czech word related to robota; which means compulsory labor. And robotnik is the peasant or serf who owes that said labor. The life of a robot is quite dreary based on the words used to describe and explain it. It’s also something to fear. The Czar discovered that in a rush some 90 years ago.

Click Here to read more about the play RUR
Click Here to go to the Dictionary.com definition of robot, and Here for robotics

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post, this is really interesting to contemplate. Variations of a word: robot, robotics, robotnik and the meaning of those words really change a story. Not taking words for granted, not assuming that a variation of a word means what I think it means has the potential to take what I read to whole new levels, really exciting. Hope that made sense.

Ben Boulden said...

I agree. Etymology is an interesting field. The history and affect of language on humanity and vice-versa never ceases to impress and amaze.