I’ve been reading Pogorelsky‘s delightful Двойник [The Double, 1828], a series of novellas in open imitation of Hoffmann but none the worse for that; the second concerns a young Russian count who goes to Leipzig to study and falls in love with the beautiful “daughter” of a strange Neapolitan mathematician who turns out (spoiler alert!) to be his clockwork creation; the narrator objects to his eponymous double, who has told him the story, that such things are impossible, and among the examples adduced by the double to counter his doubt is a certain famous talking doll: “Кукла эта, названная Андроидою Алберта Великого, по свидетельству тогдашних писателей, так была умна, что Алберт советовался с нею во всех важных случаях; но, к сожалению, один из его учеников, которому надоела неумолкаемая болтливость этой куклы, однажды в сердцах разбил ее на части.” [This doll, called the Android of Albertus Magnus, according to the testimony of writers of the time was so intelligent that Albert consulted with it on all important occasions; unfortunately, one of his students, tired of its incessant chattering, in his anger smashed it to bits.]
I was quite struck to see the Russian equivalent of “android” used that early, and indeed it is the first use in Russian literature (the next is in an 1836 story by Veltman—”Вот скитаются андроиды на паркетных берегах Стикса” [Androids are wandering there on the parquet banks of the Styx]—and in Bryusov‘s 1908 The Fiery Angel it is again used, several times, of Albertus’s creation). Of course I wanted to know how far back it went in English, so I went to the OED, where I found (in an unrevised entry from 1884) the first citation “1728 E. Chambers Cycl. (at cited word), Albertus Magnus, is recorded as having made an Androides.” I thought perhaps I could antedate that using Google Books, and I did quite well if I do say so myself, taking it back to 1657 in an English translation (The History of Magick: By Way of Apology, for All the Wise Men who Have Unjustly Been Reputed Magicians, from the Creation, to the Present Age) of Gabriel Naudé‘s Apologie pour tous les grands personages faussement soupçonnez de magie (1625, 1653, 1669, 1712). Google Books has the 1653 edition, where we find on p. 539 “Apres quoy si l’on veut insister avec Aristote que le bruit commun ne peut estre totalement faux, & que par consequent tant d’Autheurs n’auroient parlé de cette Androide d’Albert s’il n’en avoit esté quelque chose,” which J. Davies, the translator, rendered “To re-inforce which Argument, if any shall with Aristotle insist, that common report cannot be absolutely false, and consequently, that so many Authors would not have spoken of the Androides of Albertus, if something had not been in the wind.” (I’ll put the embedded image below the cut for those who can see it.)
So is that the first printed occurrence in English? We’ll have to wait and see what else turns up as Google keeps digitizing the world’s libraries. But a more interesting question is, where does the word ultimately come from? Who decided to put Greek ἀνδρ- ‘man’ together with the suffix -οειδής ‘having the form or likeness of,’ and in what language did they do it? There are various sites saying things like “the term ‘android’ was probably invented by Albertus Magnus,” but I suspect they’re just extrapolating from the fact that it seems to have been first used to describe his creation. Does anybody have any information that would shed light on this?


  1. I should think the right language to investigate here is French, given that -oid is a diphthong in English but two syllables in French (-oïd) and apparently in Russian too.

  2. I’m delighted to say that Gabriel Naude’s views on speaking statues feature in my book. However, I don’t have any insight into the verbal question of ‘android’.

  3. Incidentally, Albertus’s creation is more often described as a “bronze head” equivalent to Roger Baocn’s. This is what you find in Lomazzo’s 1580s treating on painting, for instance.
    Naude actually mentions a couple of sources, in typically loose 17c fashion, as “Henri de Assia” and “Barthelemi Sibille”, and specifically the latter’s 1499 “pereg[rinarum] qu[aestionum] [speculum]“, decade 3, cap 2, quaest 3. I looked it up there and there is only mention of the assumption of bronze bodies by demons, not of Albert’s android. The first reference is not completely clear to me, it may be to Henry of Hassia’s ‘De spiritibus eorumque discretione’, a treatise on telling good spirits from bad. There’s no index of this, and I can’t really be bothered to look through the entire book.
    What is fairly obvious is that Naude is responsible for the modern use of the word: he is cited by Pierre Bayle and Laurent Bordelon, and by various 18c cyclopedias, some of which garble Naude’s own references. The popular modern knowledge of the word ultimately came through Naude, wherever he got it from.

  4. I bow to your thorough knowledge and impressive research skills, and accept the learned Naudaeus as the progenitor of a word whose future career might well have appalled him. (“Guerre des étoiles? Nom de dieu, c’est quoi ça?”)

  5. If it were a female doll as the quote from “The Double” indicates, wouldn’t it have been the Gynoid of Albert Magnus, or at least the Anthropoid?

  6. marie-lucie says:

    It’s Gabriel Naudé, not “Naude”. LH wrote the name correctly in the post. I did not know the name, and I did not pay attention at first, until I read the Latinized Naudaeus which had to be from Naudé to justify the Latin suffix. Indeed Gabriel Naudé seems to be well-known in some circles if Google references are an indication. But I doubt he would have said C’est quoi, ça? in the 17th century, when Qu’est-ce donc? would have been usual even in colloquial speech.
    A few French references are to Gabriel Naudée, but it is probable that they are due to a misunderstanding of Italian titles where an “e” after the name, separated by a space, is not a spelling error but the Italian coordinating conjunction meaning ‘and’.

  7. > It’s Gabriel Naudé, not “Naude”
    No shit, m-l. I was simply being lazy, since I don’t have a French keyboard with “é” on it.

  8. Incidentally, Naudé becomes “Maude” in a 19c English edition of the Flores historiarum:

  9. Somebody has written that S. Thomas Aquinas, student of Albertus Magnus, destroyed the android: “Sanctus dedit, sanctus abstulit, sic nomen automatarii benedictum”.

  10. If it were a female doll as the quote from “The Double” indicates, wouldn’t it have been the Gynoid of Albert Magnus, or at least the Anthropoid?
    You have not perused my labored prose with sufficient perseverance; the female doll has nothing to do with the Androides except that the latter is one of a number of supposed examples of actual talking or otherwise human-acting dolls/statues/heads brought forth by the Double to convince the narrator that he should not evince such automatic skepticism. (Another is the Turk, which was all the rage in Europe during the late eighteenth century, when the story is set; that Wikipedia article is detailed and quite interesting—when the machine was destroyed by fire in 1854, “Mitchell believed he had heard ‘through the struggling flames … the last words of our departed friend, the sternly whispered, oft repeated syllables, “echec! echec!!”‘”)

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Conrad, thank you for using the é in your next comment, however you managed to find it on your computer.

  12. An enchanted talking head appears in “Don Quixote” (chapter 62, volume II) on the model of another head seen in Madrid.

  13. To be linguistically pedantic–and what are we here for, after all?–the compound is “andro-eides,” not “andr-oeides.” The omicron doesn’t assimilate because of a lost /w/ (digamma), which operates much like a so-called aspirated h in French.

  14. D’oh!

  15. Wait, Hat, I still don’t understand. It says “This doll, called the Android of Albertus Magnus, according to the testimony of writers of the time was so intelligent that Albert consulted with her on all important occasions; unfortunately, one of his students, tired of her incessant chattering, in his anger smashed her to bits.” How does that not say that the Android is female?

  16. D’oh! I succumbed to an extremely primitive form of mistranslation, rendering the feminine pronouns appropriate to the Russian feminine noun кукла ‘doll’ as English feminine pronouns. I’ll go fix it now; sorry for the entirely avoidable crossed wires!

  17. David Marjanović says:

    No shit, m-l. I was simply being lazy, since I don’t have a French keyboard with “é” on it.

    Obligatory bragging about the German keyboard layout: it has ´, ` and ^ on it. (Also, BTW, ° – poor Americans can’t write temperatures without reaching into the character map.)

  18. Thanks. After I posted I figured that might be it.

  19. I find myself wondering if Russ Manning knew this when he chose the name of his robot fighter:,_Robot_Fighter

  20. the Russian feminine noun кукла ‘doll’
    Hmm. I wonder if that’s the source of Kukla, Fran and Ollie. . .

  21. The Wikipedia article you link to says:

    Kukla is the Greek word for “doll”; Greek people often address young girls as Kuklaki mou meaning “my little doll”. It also exists as a loanword with the same meaning in Russian and Albanian, as well as in Turkish with the meaning of “puppet.”

  22. Nişanyan’s Turkish Etymological Dictionary says:
    ~ Gk. kúkla/púpla κούκλα/πούπλα toy doll ~? Lat pupula [dim.] same meaning puppa little girl, toy doll

  23. That Turkish Etymological Dictionary is a great resource; I’ve added it to the sidebar. Thanks! (N.b.: I’ve fixed your link as well; you forgot to put quotes around the URL.)

  24. des von bladet says:

    Ahem: With a US-international keyboard, which is my favourite for Windows by a long way, Right Alt + “:” => °.
    (I am not American, though.)

  25. Rereading the above, I’m suddenly reminded of the Firesign Theatre’s Android Sisters (Patty, Maxine and Lamont).

  26. A play, of course, on the Andrews Sisters, Patty, Maxine, and LaVerne.

  27. Yes indeed. *Sings* Peorgie Tirebiter, he’s a spy and a girl delighter …

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