ROBOT as used in South Africa for Traffic Lights

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Prof_D, Mar 15, 2012.

  1. Prof_D New Member

    South Africa
    English UK
    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?
  2. modulus Senior Member

    ইংরেজি - আমেরিক
    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)
  3. DocPenfro

    DocPenfro Senior Member

    Little England
    English - British
    "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.
  4. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    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. :)
  5. Einstein

    Einstein Senior Member

    Milano, Italia
    UK, English
    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!
  6. Copyright

    Copyright Senior Member

    American English
    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.
  7. Egmont Senior Member

    Massachusetts, U.S.
    English - U.S.
    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.
  8. Prof_D New Member

    South Africa
    English UK
    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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