robot n.

a (semi-)intelligent artificial being typically made of metal and resembling in some way a human or other animal

Originally with reference to the mass-produced workers in Karel Čapek’s play R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots (1920) which are assembled from artificially synthesized organic material.

[< Czech robot (1920 in R.U.R.: Rossum’s Universal Robots, a play by Karel Čapek (1890–1938), Czech author; the subtitle of the Czech play is in English) < robota forced labour, drudgery.
According to Karel Čapek, the word was suggested to him by his brother Josef (1887–1945) as an alternative to his original intention of coining a word ultimately < classical Latin labor ‘work; labor’.]


  • 1920 K. Čapek (title of play) page image Karel Čapek bibliography

    RUR[:] Rossum’s Universal Robots.

  • 1922 N.Y. Times 13 Aug. 78

    Robots were by all means better for use in factories and in armies, making cheap labor material, and not causing any troubles as strikers.

  • 1923 P. Selver tr. K. Čapek R.U.R. 28

    You see…the Robots have no interest in life. They have no enjoyments.

  • 1925 T. C. Bridges City of No Escape 58

    ‘Marse Nick,’ he demanded, ‘is dey real men or does dey go by machinery?’ ‘Blessed if I know, Jake… You'd best ask Mister Jeremy.’ ‘Sort of Robots I’d say, Nick. But it’s a puzzle we shall have to solve later,’ said Jeremy.

  • 1936 J. Williamson Ruler of Fate in Weird Tales Apr. 388/1 page image Jack Williamson bibliography

    Kid, what are you doing at the shop at midnight? Think you are a robot secretary, or something?… Ought to be home in bed, kid.

  • 1940 ‘E. Binder’ Fights a War in Amazing Stories Dec. 11/1 page image

    I am a robot. A metal man with a brain of sponge iridium. I have gears and wheels and I run on a battery. True enough. But I have the mind of a man!

  • 1941 F. E. Arnold Mecanica in Cosmic Stories Mar. 30/2 page image Frank Edward Arnold bibliography

    The tank was, of course, a kind of super-robot and was now out of action as far as driving itself went.

  • 1955 C. Oliver Field Expedient in Astounding Science-Fiction Jan. 91/2 page image Chad Oliver bibliography

    The ship carried two pilots, a navigator, a doctor, fifty babies, twenty-five special humanoid robots, computers, and supplies.

  • 1964 Worlds of If Jan. 74 page image

    He knew a robot was only a tool to be used by men. But the big question was—who was using who?

  • 1981 F. C. Gotschalk Take a Midget Step in Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction June 91/2 page image Felix C. Gotschalk bibliography

    [‘]Good evening, gentlemen’, the robot said…. The robot was a Robert Redford–Lee Majors physiog combo, and sported a slightly toned-down Schwartzenagger [sic] body.

  • 1995 P. Brazier Rambles Around My Macintosh in Interzone Aug. 63/2 page image Paul Brazier bibliography

    In Short Circuit a combat robot achieves sentience and is a good guy, here a combat robot goes out of control, killing everything it sees, and is shut down.

  • 2009 R. Reed Creatures of Well-Defined Habits in Asimov’s Science Fiction Aug. 38 page image Robert Reed bibliography

    I sat across from him and let him see a small smile, and the robot asked about my life of late, and I shrugged without commitment.

  • 2020 M. Cole Sixteenth Watch 53 Myke Cole bibliography

    You want anything else? A robot to massage your feet three times a day? A new Porsche?

Research requirements

antedating 1920

Earliest cite

in the subtitle of Čapek’s play

Last modified 2021-03-18 15:06:26
In the compilation of some entries, HDSF has drawn extensively on corresponding entries in OED.