Robots Were Almost Called Labori

Robots Were Almost Called Labori

Robots. That word seems so fitting for what they are but obviously it wasn’t always that way, someone had to invent that word after all. And did you know that the inventor, Czech playwright Karel Čapek, almost called them “labori”? Can you imagine?

Čapek first introduced the term robot in his 1920 play, RUR, or Rossum’s Universal Robots. But why robots? Because robot is drawn from an old Slavonic word, robota, which meant servitude and forced labour and that’s what the play was about. From science historian Howard Markel:

Taking its cues from other literary accounts of scientifically created life forms such as Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein…R.U.R. tells the story of a company using the latest biology, chemistry and physiology to mass produce workers who “lack nothing but a soul.” The robots perform all the work that humans preferred not to do and, soon, the company is inundated with orders. In early drafts of his play, Čapek named these creatures labori, after the Latinate root for labour, but worried that the term sounded too “bookish.” At the suggestion of his brother, Josef, Čapek ultimately opted for roboti, or in English, robots.

That was a close one! I’m not sure I would love robots the same if they were called labori. How would we even pronounce it? Thank God I don’t have to find out. [Science Friday via @brainpicker]

Image credit: Charles Taylor/Shutterstock