Robots in Greek [sic].

Anthony Ossa-Richardson sent me a link to the Graun’s A robot wrote this entire article. Are you scared yet, human? (“We asked GPT-3, OpenAI’s powerful new language generator, to write an essay for us from scratch”) with the remark “Good to know AI is just as much of ignorant blowhard as most humans”; he pointed specifically to the statement:

Robots in Greek [sic] means “slave”. But the word literally means “forced to work”.

The Grauniacs were kind enough to add the [sic] and the link to an article which correctly states:

‘Roboti’ derives from the Old Church Slavanic [sic! –LH] ‘rabota’, meaning ‘servitude’, which in turn comes from ‘rabu’, meaning ‘slave’.

Remember, kids, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, especially if it was written by a robot!

Comments

  1. You might want to add another [sic] link to correctly spell Slavonic.

  2. Good point!

  3. “Anthony Ossa-Richardson”? Are you sure that’s not an anagram?

  4. Dmitry Pruss says:

    Can you teach a robot to misspell to appear more human?

  5. By the way, in Wikipedia it says

    The Robot Patent is an English-language scholarly term for the imperial decrees (patents) in the 1700s abolishing compulsory labor (robot) of serfs, issued by Joseph II, who had carried out a register of all land with a division between peasant and noble holdings.

    I don’t know about scholarly but when we learned the phrase at school (probably something to do with benevolent despots, in History), there was nothing about it being called something quite different by non-Englishpersons. What do other people call it?

  6. What do other people call it?
    it’s cognate in many Slavic languages, but called барщина in Russian (Wikipedia says that it existed in a pure form England until XIV c. as servitia / labor servitium, before it was replaced by compulsory but paid work?

  7. PlasticPaddy says:

    @ajp
    This article mentions, but does not give this name to, the “Robotpatent” of 1781 and includes a summary of the history of the “robot”.
    https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robot_(Frondienst_im_K%C3%B6nigreich_B%C3%B6hmen)

  8. Certainly. In Turing’s famous thought experiment about how a conversation with an intelligent machine might go, the questioner asks the machine for the sum of 34957 and 70764. Not only does the machine take 30 seconds to answer (it could hardly be slower if it used a pencil and paper), but the sum given is 105621, which is wrong!

  9. In modern Bulgarian роб does mean slave (from robъ, spelled робъ until 1945); работа OTOH is a colloquial term for employment and/or one’s place of emplyment, or more generally stuff you need to do, not necessarily related to employment, like buying groceries. It’s very versatile semantically.

  10. Paddy, thanks, and it actually does mention robotpatent (though it’s pretty agonising work to translate):

    In Schlesien kam es daher zunächst zur Urbarisierung – einer schriftlichen Erfassung der von einem Hausstand zu erbringenden Dienste in angemessenem Umfang – und am 6. Juli 1771 zu dem für diesen Landesteil geltenden (Robot-)Hauptpatent.
    In Silesia, it came first therefore to the Urbar* – a written record of the services to be provided to the appropriate extent by a household – and on 6 July 1771 the main (robot) patent was obtained for this part of the country.

    *Latinised Urbarium: a directory of property rights of a manor & the services to be provided by its subject landholders

    Dmitry: it existed in a pure form England until XIV c. as servitia / labor servitium, before it was replaced by compulsory but paid work?
    I don’t think so. Funnily enough I was just listening to a fascinating school talk by a medieval English historian, Mark Bailey, about pandemics and he mentioned the economic consequences of the Black Death just before the Peasants’ Revolt, so around 1350, when they tried to freeze the labour market to its level before the pandemic and there followed a 10-15 year discussion (Chaucer was involved) on the role of central government relative to labour. It’s really all about Covid of course, but if you don’t want to hear the whole thing, this bit is after minute 42.
    Either this: https://vimeo.com/458562834 or this: https://www.stpaulsschool.org.uk/virtual-events-recorded-events/ (I hope) might work (they link to the same talk).

    V, I just remember Я работаю for the verb I work in Russian. I suppose robot(patent) came to the Hapsburg empire from this ‘ere Old Church Slav(on)ic and perhaps робъ to Bulgarian & Russian too?

  11. The Proto-Slavic form is reconstructed as orbъ “slave”, going back to PIE *Horbho-, the root behind Greek orphanos “orphan” and German Arbeit “work”. PSl. initial *orC- became roC- or raC- in the individual Slavic languages; the result may be different for different words due to differences in accent / stress. Now, robot is the Czech form, which is, of course, cognate with (Old Church) Slavonic “rabъ / rabota”, but Slavonic is NOT the source – saying that is better than saying it’s Greek, but still not correct, except maybe if one uses Slavonic as meaning “some Slavic language”.

  12. I thought it was common knowledge that “robot” was invented by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek for his 1920 play R.U.R (in English, “Rossum’s Universal Robots”) and that the word derived from the Czech for serf. But maybe I know that because I read too much science fiction as an adolescent half a century ago.

  13. Yep, common knowledge with me (not an especial reader of S.F.), and wikipedia. Karel attributed the invention of the name to his brother, Josef.

  14. Yes, known by me since reading Capek’s (no hatcheck) ‘War with the Newts’ about 1960.

  15. Karel attributed the invention of the name to his brother, Josef.

    As mentioned at LH in 2008.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    Capek’s (no hatcheck) ‘War with the Newts’

    Maybe they couldn’t print it on the English edition, but of course he’s got his háček.

  17. @languagehat: Sadly, the relevant link in that 2008 post is dead.

  18. Thanks for the heads-up; I’ve replaced it with an archived one. (Damn this eternal link-rot!)

  19. Bloix said: “I thought it was common knowledge that “robot” was invented by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek for his 1920 play R.U.R (in English, “Rossum’s Universal Robots”) and that the word derived from the Czech for serf. But maybe I know that because I read too much science fiction as an adolescent half a century ago.”

    I assumed that was common knowledge also (at least in this crowd here); that’s why thought it’s redundant to mention it. I didn’t find it relevant to the discussion, outside of a “robot” writing a Wikipedia article about robots, which was already inherent in the purpose of writing this blog post (humour).

  20. January First-of-May says:

    I thought it was common knowledge that “robot” was invented by the Czech playwright Karel Čapek for his 1920 play R.U.R (in English, “Rossum’s Universal Robots”) and that the word derived from the Czech for serf.

    I also thought it was common knowledge, but a few years ago I ended up in a (seemingly) otherwise-well-educated Discord chat where nobody seemed to have been aware who Karel Čapek was. (Admittedly it probably didn’t help that I kept spelling his last name “Chapek”.)
    I would probably still expect (nearly) everyone to know that in the LH audience, though. LH commenters (and probably LH readers as well) tend to be a lot more educated than the general public, especially in linguistic matters.

    I myself had been a major fan of his works ever since having acquired a five-volume set of them (in Russian translation) at age 11 or so (and very possibly even before that, but I don’t really remember).
    OTOH, I slightly dislike how he seems to be only known (if at all) for R.U.R. (which was IMHO mediocre) and not his actual masterpieces, like Stories from a Pocket (and its sequel Stories from Another Pocket), or The Great Doctor’s Tale, or War with the Newts, or Travels in the North (all of his travelogues are excellent, really, that one’s just the longest), or the utterly brilliant How it is Made.

  21. War with the Newts is a critique of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and British and French imperialism. For that era’s science fiction, it ages very well. Especially compared to American popular authors (or editors) that certain awards that were (and some that still are) named after.

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