Fans of science fiction learned last week that the word robot” was first used in 1920—a full three years earlier than originally thought.
The “massively important yet obvious” change in date was confirmed with a search of the Internet Archive, which has a digitized first edition of the Czech play, R.U.R. Rossum’s Universal Robots, published in 1920. There on the title page, hiding in plain sight in an English-language subtitle to the work, is the earliest known use of the word “robot.”
This important piece of information is one of many little-known facts captured in the Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction. The project was completed this year by historian Jesse Sheidlower, who credits two things that enabled him to publish this project, decades in the making. “One, we had a pandemic so I had a lot of enforced time at home that I could spend on it,” explained Sheidlower. “The second was the existence of the Internet Archive. Because it turns out the Internet Archive has the Pulp Magazine collection that holds almost all the science fiction pulps from this core period.”
The New York-based lexicographer—a person who compiles dictionaries—sat down with the Internet Archive’s Director of Partnerships, Wendy Hanamura, to demonstrate how he goes about his work.
Report: “Major SciFi Discovery Hiding in Plain Sight at the Internet Archive”
Filed by March 24, 2021on