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Old 09-12-2006, 01:10 AM
Cunctator is offline
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Robot = Traffic light?


I have a colleague at work who has moved here from South Africa. Whenever she mentions the robots (i.e. traffic lights) it always brings a smile to my face. It just seems like such an unlikely description.

Does anyone know the origin of this usage? Could it possibly refer back to the times when traffic lights had those mechanical arm things?

And is the robot = traffic light usage unique to South Africa?
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Old 09-12-2006, 01:46 AM
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"Turn right at the robot, my friend" is the phrase I think of as typifying that kind of South African accent. According to the OED:
Quote:
c. Chiefly S. Afr. An automatic traffic-signal.
1931 Even. Standard 5 Aug. 2/1 (heading) Traffic ‘Robots’ in the City. 1939 Forum (Johannesburg) 4 Feb. 35/1 The Daily Dispatch, East London, is critical of a proposal to fix robots in the town's streets. 1948 H. V. MORTON In Search of S. Afr. 17 Another word used in South Africa, but long discontinued in England, is robot for traffic lights. 1958 Johannesburg Star 16 Dec. 6/7 Johannesburg drivers..want to turn right or left while pedestrians, with the robot in their favour, are crossing. 1969 A. FUGARD Boesman & Lena II. 38 When the robot said ‘Go’ there at Berry's Corner I was nearly bang in my broek. 1974 Eastern Province Herald 2 Oct. 9 Vandals removed the lamps from seven traffic robots and the flashing head from a warning pole.
Interesting that they have a cite that says it's long fallen into disuse in England, but no early cite from England.
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Old 09-12-2006, 01:49 AM
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Ahem, in fact the first cite is from England.
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Old 09-12-2006, 01:56 AM
Cunctator is offline
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That's interesting. I didn't realise that it was a usage in the UK too.
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Old 09-12-2006, 02:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cunctator
That's interesting. I didn't realise that it was a usage in the UK too.
I don't think it ever has been, really. First, that cite is from 1931; second, it's in a headline; and third, it's in quotation marks. Looks more like a headline-writer's attempt to describe these strange new contraptions appearing in the city, to me.
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Old 09-12-2006, 02:23 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cunctator
Whenever she mentions the robots (i.e. traffic lights) it always brings a smile to my face. It just seems like such an unlikely description.
Ask her what she calls (called) a floppy disk back home for real fun and games...

Grim
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Old 09-12-2006, 02:27 AM
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Originally Posted by grimpixie
Ask her what she calls (called) a floppy disk back home for real fun and games...
Yes, she's already mentioned that one. It caused great mirth.
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Old 09-12-2006, 03:00 AM
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I'll bite. What does she call a floppy disk?
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Old 09-12-2006, 03:15 AM
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It actually makes a lot of sense to call them robots; traffic lights are robot replacements for human traffic police (the first traffic light signals were in fact controlled/switched by a human operator).
A washing machine is a robot for washing fabric; a dishwasher is a robot for cleaning plates.
Robots don't have to be mobile humanoids (in fact, there's another term set aside exactly for that: android)
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Old 09-12-2006, 05:13 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Baffle
I'll bite. What does she call a floppy disk?
I believe they're called "stiffies".
  #11  
Old 09-12-2006, 07:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Colophon
I believe they're called "stiffies".
Which is very logical, when you think about it - the old 5" disks were floppy and so were called "floppies", while the new 3.5" disks were stiff, and so...

The fact that the new name was also UK slang for an erection is simply unfortunate

Grim
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