Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto

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Given this:

"Measure words for robots" (9/4/21)

and this:

"Arigatō" (9/3/21),

I could not help but think of this:


Domo arigato misuta Robotto
Domo arigato misuta Robotto
Mata au hi made
Domo arigato misuta Robotto
Himitsu wo shiritai*
You're wondering who I am (secret secret I've got a secret)
Machine or mannequin (secret secret I've got a secret)
With parts made in Japan (secret secret I've got a secret)
I am the modern man
I've got a secret I've been hiding under my skin
My heart is human, my blood is boiling, my brain I.B.M.
So if you see me acting strangely, don't be surprised
I'm just a man who needed someone, and somewhere to hide
To keep me alive, just keep me alive
Somewhere to hide to keep me alive
I'm not a robot without emotions, I'm not what you see
I've come to help you with your problems, so we can be free
I'm not a hero, I'm not a savior, forget what you know
I'm just a man whose circumstances went beyond his control
Beyond my control, we all need control
I need control, we all need control
I am the modern man (secret secret I've got a secret)
Who hides behind a mask (secret secret I've got a secret)
So no one else can see (secret secret I've got a secret)
My true identity
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo, domo
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto, domo, domo
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For doing the jobs nobody wants to
And thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
For helping me escape to where I needed to
Thank you, thank you, thank you
I want to thank you, please, thank you, oh yeah
The problem's plain to see, too much technology
Machines to save our lives, machines dehumanize
The time has come at last (secret secret I've got a secret)
To throw away this mask (secret secret I've got a secret)
Now everyone can see (secret secret I've got a secret)
My true identity
I'm Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy! Kilroy!
*Japanese lyrics at the beginning of the song:

どうもありがとうミスターロボット (Dōmo arigatō misutā robotto)
また会う日まで (Mata au hi made)
どうもありがとうミスターロボット (Dōmo arigatō misutā robotto)
秘密を知りたい (Himitsu o shiritai)

English translation:

Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
Until the day we meet again
Thank you very much, Mr. Roboto
I want to know your secret

The lyric "Dōmo arigatō, Mr. Roboto" has entered popular culture as a catchphrase, appearing in media such as The Simpsons, Futurama, Archer, My Life as a Teenage Robot, Arrested Development, Eight Crazy Nights, Austin Powers in Goldmember, DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, Man With A Plan, The Perfect Man, Chuck, Ion Fury and Mr. Robot.


Wikipedia article on the song


Wikipedia article on "robot"


Origin of the term 'robot'

'Robot' was first applied as a term for artificial automata in the 1920 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. However, Josef Čapek was named by his brother Karel as the true inventor of the term robot. The word 'robot' itself was not new, having been in the Slavic language as robota (forced labor), a term applied to peasants obligated to compulsory service under the feudal system (see: Robot Patent). Čapek's fictional story postulated the technological creation of artificial human bodies without souls, and the old theme of the feudal robota class eloquently fit the imagination of a new class of manufactured, artificial workers.

English pronunciation of the word has evolved relatively quickly since its introduction. In the U.S. during the late '30s to early '40s the second syllable was pronounced with a long "O" like "row-boat." By the late '50s to early '60s, some were pronouncing it with a short "U" like "row-but" while others used a softer "O" like "row-bought." By the '70s, its current pronunciation "row-bot" had become predominant.


Etymologies for "robot"


Borrowed from Czech robot, from robota (drudgery, servitude). Coined in the 1920 science-fiction play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots) by Karel Čapek after having been suggested to him by his brother Josef, and taken into English without change.

Online Etymology Dictionary

1923, from English translation of 1920 play "R.U.R." ("Rossum's Universal Robots"), by Karel Capek (1890-1938), from Czech robotnik "forced worker," from robota "forced labor, compulsory service, drudgery," from robotiti "to work, drudge," from an Old Czech source akin to Old Church Slavonic rabota "servitude," from rabu "slave" (from Old Slavic *orbu-, from PIE *orbh- "pass from one status to another;" see orphan [VHM:  for more details about how "robot" and "orphan" are related back to PIE root *orbh- "to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another", see this entry in Online Etymology Dictionary, also the same entry in The American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix]).

The Slavic word thus is a cousin to German Arbeit "work" (Old High German arabeit). According to Rawson the word was popularized by Karel Capek's play, "but was coined by his brother Josef (the two often collaborated), who used it initially in a short story."

American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition

Robot has been in English since 1923, when Karel Čapek's 1921 play R.U.R. was translated into English from Czech and presented in London and New York. The play's title, R.U.R., is an abbreviation of Rossum's Universal Robots, the name of a corporation in the play that makes robots to serve as slave labor for humanity. However, Čapek's robots—the original robots—are quite different from the standard-issue robots of later 20th-century science fiction, such as C3PO and R2D2 of Star Wars, that seem to be assembled from metal, silicon, and other non-biological materials. Čapek's robots are assembled out of something like flesh and blood, made according to a secret formula. Their flesh is mixed like dough in mixing machines and their nerves and veins are spun out on spinners. Eventually, during the course of the play, the robots grow tired of their subservient position and stage a rebellion that places the very future of humanity in peril. The robots take over the world, but it becomes clear that they also feel emotions like love and are worthy successors to humanity. Robot and robotka, the words Čapek uses in Czech for the male and female versions of these sentient biological automatons, are derived from the Czech word robota, "servitude, forced labor."


The word robot was introduced to the public by the Czech interwar writer Karel Čapek in his play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots), published in 1920. The play begins in a factory that uses a chemical substitute for protoplasm to manufacture living, simplified people called robots. The play does not focus in detail on the technology behind the creation of these living creatures, but in their appearance they prefigure modern ideas of androids, creatures who can be mistaken for humans. These mass-produced workers are depicted as efficient but emotionless, incapable of original thinking and indifferent to self-preservation. At issue is whether the robots are being exploited and the consequences of human dependence upon commodified labor (especially after a number of specially-formulated robots achieve self-awareness and incite robots all around the world to rise up against the humans).

Karel Čapek himself did not coin the word. He wrote a short letter in reference to an etymology in the Oxford English Dictionary in which he named his brother, the painter and writer Josef Čapek, as its actual originator.

In an article in the Czech journal Lidové noviny in 1933, he explained that he had originally wanted to call the creatures laboři ("workers", from Latin labor). However, he did not like the word, and sought advice from his brother Josef, who suggested "roboti". The word robota means literally "corvée", "serf labor", and figuratively "drudgery" or "hard work" in Czech and also (more general) "work", "labor" in many Slavic languages (e.g.: Bulgarian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Polish, Macedonian, Ukrainian, archaic Czech, as well as robot in Hungarian). Traditionally the robota (Hungarian robot) was the work period a serf (corvée) had to give for his lord, typically 6 months of the year. The origin of the word is the Old Church Slavonic (Old Bulgarian) rabota "servitude" ("work" in contemporary Bulgarian and Russian), which in turn comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *orbh-. Robot is cognate with the German root Arbeit (work).

[VHM:  cf. Japanese "arubaito アルバイト" ("work"), from Middle High German arbeit, from Old High German arbeit, from Proto-West Germanic *arbaiþi, from Proto-Germanic *arbaidiz, ultimately from Proto-Indo-European *h₃órbʰos (orphan), from which English orphan is also derived. Cognate with Yiddish אַרבעט(arbet), Old English earfoþe. (source)]

The word robotics, used to describe this field of study, was coined by the science fiction writer Isaac Asimov. Asimov created the "Three Laws of Robotics" which are a recurring theme in his books. These have since been used by many others to define laws used in fiction. (The three laws are pure fiction, and no technology yet created has the ability to understand or follow them, and in fact most robots serve military purposes, which run quite contrary to the first law and often the third law. "People think about Asimov's laws, but they were set up to point out how a simple ethical system doesn't work. If you read the short stories, every single one is about a failure, and they are totally impractical," said Dr. Joanna Bryson of the University of Bath.)


Selected readings


[Thanks to all Language Log colleagues and readers, especially the mysterious, anonymous commenter who calls her/himself "Robot Therapist"]


  1. Rodger C said,

    September 5, 2021 @ 9:41 am

    I had a grade-school teacher, brought out of retirement as a substitute, who pronounced it "rowboat," and till this moment I just thought she was abysmally ignorant (which was also true).

  2. Bathrobe said,

    September 5, 2021 @ 3:42 pm

    The piece switches between Roboto and Robotto in a confusing way. The second is, of course, correct in Japanese.

  3. Robot Therapist said,

    September 5, 2021 @ 4:59 pm

    But who is Kilroy?

  4. Matt Sayler said,

    September 6, 2021 @ 12:50 pm

    "cf. Japanese 'arubaito アルバイト' ('work'), from Middle High German arbeit"

    My quick internet search hasn't answered this question, and I don't have any primary reference material: can anyone shed light on when the Japanese borrowing took place?

  5. Victor Mair said,

    September 6, 2021 @ 1:12 pm

    @Matt Sayler

    The Japanese term "arubaito アルバイト" ("work") was borrowed from modern German "arbeit", which comes from the Middle High German "arbeit".

  6. Dara Connolly said,

    September 6, 2021 @ 4:50 pm

    My grandfather (born 1906) pronounced the word "robot" as "robo". I don't know whether this was at one time a variant pronunciation in English or whether his pronunciation was influenced by Irish róbó.

  7. Dara Connolly said,

    September 6, 2021 @ 4:53 pm

    Japanese arubaito アルバイト means "part-time job". It's not used to refer to work more generally.

  8. KeithB said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 8:37 am

    Robot Therapist:
    I am going on memory here from one of my imponderables books.
    "Kilroy was here" along with a little cartoon of a large-nosed man looking over a wall, was WWII slang.

    It appears that Kilroy was a weld inspector who used the little cartoon to signify that the weld had been inspected and satisfactory. Some sailors saw these marks and turned it into a meme.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 9:01 am

    The "large-nosed man looking over a wall" was called Chad rather than Kilroy in the UK, and is thought to date back to 1938 when the first such cartoon appeared in print, drawn by George Edward Chatterton, nicknamed "Chat".

  10. Scott P. said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 9:10 am

    While that is the explanation for 'Kilroy was here', in this case Kilroy is the protagonist of the rock opera that this song is a part of. His full name is Robert Orin Charles Kilroy (ROCK).

  11. Rodger C said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 10:02 am

    whether his pronunciation was influenced by Irish róbó

    That calls for its own explanation. Was it adapted into Irish by someone who thought it was French?

  12. Daniel said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 11:01 am

    I seem to hear Dennis DeYoung pronouncing what sounds like "modren man". Perhaps this has to do with singing style and avoiding the "er" vowel.

  13. Terry K. said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 5:50 pm

    Though I don't know the story on why, it's "modren" in the lyrics printed with the album, except I believe with a backwards R. I seen a couple sites that associate it the post-modernism, so I guess it means post-modern, if that's correct.

    Another note on Kilroy. Kilroy disguises himself as a Roboto.

  14. Bathrobe said,

    September 7, 2021 @ 8:13 pm

    Re: Robo. There is, of course, robocop.

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