Monday, November 17, 2008


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 quite a bit and not much, all at the same time.


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.

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


–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 definition of robot, and Here for robotics


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.