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?

“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:

Interesting that they have a cite that says it’s long fallen into disuse in England, but no early cite from England.

Ahem, in fact the first cite is from England.

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.

Ask her what she calls (called) a floppy disk back home for real fun and games…

:wink: Grim

Yes, she’s already mentioned that one. It caused great mirth.

I’ll bite. What does she call a floppy disk?

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)

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 :smiley: