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?
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.
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)