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I have just joined this forum. I encountered the word above during the registration process. I believe it means, simply, "labour" and not "forced labour" as is claimed there.


  • Welcome to the forum @Alexandrama!
    I see, interesting.
    I will pass your comment to the editorial team - I can't promise the entry will be changed, but this sort of feedback is always welcome! :)

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited February 2018

    The Oxford English Dictionary discusses this in the entry for robot 1.

    (Robot 2 is the word we use nowadays for machines which do human work. If an online registration screen says Prove you're not a robot, it means 'not a robot 2'.)

    Robot 1 is defined as

    A central European system of serfdom, by which a tenant's rent was paid in forced labour or service. Now historical.
    The system was abolished in the Austrian Empire in 1848.

    English took the word from German, which clearly took it from a Slavonic dialect. The OED says 'From a West Slavonic language'. I'm not sure they mean 'before Czech Polish etc emerged as as languages' or 'from one of the languages, but we can't tell which'.

    They justify this by citing the meanings of robota in Old Czech and Old Polish — and compare the meanings in Modern Czech and Modern Polish.

    from a West Slavonic language, compare Old Czech robota forced labour, hard work (Czech robota forced labour, drudgery), Old Polish robota work, forced labour (Polish robota work)

    Robota or rabota could also mean 'forced labour' in Old Russian. In Old Church Slavonic in could mean 'slavery'.

    It seems clear that the root of the words is rob or rab meaning 'slave'.

    The OED gives several quotes — all from historians describing Central European practice. Most us the wording the robot or the Robot

    English took robot 2 directly from Modern Czech, as used by Karel Čapek in the play which gave us all the concept. He may have had the old meaning of robota in mind, or he may have simple been thinking of 'drudgery'.


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