ROBOT as used in South Africa for Traffic Lights

Prof_D

New Member
English UK
#1
I want to know how the word "Robot" came to be used in South Africa when (I think) all the rest of the English speaking world use "Traffic Lights"? what started this?
 

modulus

Senior Member
ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
#2
This is very interesting. I looked around a bit and according to OED: “Another word used in South Africa, but long discontinued in England, is robot for traffic lights.” (reference). Looking around a bit more: “It makes sense in its own way: It's a device that replaces a policeman directing traffic.” (reference)
 

DocPenfro

Senior Member
English - British
#3
"The etymology of the word derives from a description of early traffic lights as robot policemen, which then got truncated with time." (Wikipedia)

It's actually quite logical; the problem (or humour) arises because South Africa is the only country where this term is used. Older readers will remember that, until ~1970, it was still common for road junctions in the UK to be controlled by bored-looking policemen.
 

Copyright

Senior Member
American English
#4
You're a professor in South Africa? Shouldn't you be telling us? :D :D :D

Here's a link to The Straight Dope website to get you started, along with DocPenfro's tip, which I've just seen.

Welcome to the forum. :)
 

Einstein

Senior Member
UK, English
#5
A slightly different explanation from a South African colleague of mine was that the original term was "robotic traffic controller". She considered "traffic light" a very banal expression!
 

Copyright

Senior Member
American English
#6
A slightly different explanation from a South African colleague of mine was that the original term was "robotic traffic controller". She considered "traffic light" a very banal expression!
So do I now that I've heard robot. Sounds strange at first but quickly grows on you (me). Coincidentally, I imagined a "robotic traffic controller" when I read it.
 

Egmont

Senior Member
English - U.S.
#7
When I hear "robot traffic controller," I visualize something like C3P0 from Star Wars or Alex J. Murphy from RoboCop standing at an intersection waving its/his arms.
 

Prof_D

New Member
English UK
#8
thank you modulus and docpenfro for your information and the attached references. I won't make any assumptions on why you chose the user names that you use.
this thread can be closed, now.
 
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