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Oxford dictionaries defines "android" as:

a robot with a human appearance.

I assume droid is a shortened version of android. This makes sense for C-3PO, who is obviously humanoid in appearance, but why is R2-D2 considered a droid rather than just a robot?

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    "Robot" is short for "robotnik" which means "worker", so only employed droids can be called "robots"... or in other words: Don't look to closely at the origin of words when trying to figure out what they mean now. – Stig Hemmer Dec 17 '15 at 9:44
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    This is called etymological fallacy. No word in and of itself has a meaning. It only has whatever meaning a given group of people agrees upon. If we agree that "droid" means "orange cat", then that is what it actually means. But this is all irrelevant anyway, as you totally looked up the wrong word in the first place. When looking up the meaning of "bar", do you look up "crowbar"? – RegDwight Dec 17 '15 at 12:30
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    @StigHemmer: No, it's not. The word ist artificial, comes from a 1921 novel. I'd beg to do look closely before spreading knowledge. And to support your point: originally, the word robot meant a very humanoid artificial life form, exactly an android. – Pavel Dec 17 '15 at 17:53
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    @PavelPetrman from the page you linked: "The word 'robot' is of Czech origin." In Czech, Hungarian and I'd guess other languages in the area, the word robot had been related to "menial work / worker" for centuries. (To be exact, at least in Hungarian, it was the work medieval farmers owed to the landlord purely for the lord's benefit.) – MPeti Dec 17 '15 at 21:09
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    @PavelPetrman: Why do you claim the word is "artificial" (which would insinuate it is completely made up from scratch), when the article you link to says: "The term 'robot' was first used to denote fictional automata in a 1921 play R.U.R. by the Czech writer, Karel Čapek. The word 'robot' is of Czech origin." (emphasis by myself)? – O. R. Mapper Dec 17 '15 at 21:29

10 Answers 10

58

George Lucas seems to have made up the term droid as a shortened version of android which can refer to any robot.

The term "droid", popularized by George Lucas in the original Star Wars film

Wiki - Android

Lucasfilm Ltd also filed for a trademark on the word "Droid" further adding to the evidence that Lucas invented it or popularised it.

Lucasfilm Ltd. swept in and filed a trademark on October 9, 2009 for the term “Droid”.

Today I found out

According to the Wiki on Droids:

The term Droid was first used in a 1952 sci-fi story by Mari Wolf, "Robots of the World! Arise!", published in "If Worlds of Science Fiction", July 1952.

"Jack shook his head. "It's crazy. They're swarming all over Carron City. They're stopping robots in the streets--household Robs, commercial Droids, all of them."

So Lucas was not the first to use droids, here droids would seem to refer to working robots or possibly robots with a function.

Going deeper into the route of Android -> Droid there doesn't seem to be any special meaning being Droid whereas Android is the culmination of

Greek root ἀνδρ- 'man' (male, as opposed to anthrop- = human being) and the suffix -oid 'having the form or likeness of'

So Android would literally mean "Having the form or likeness of man", δρ which is dr to us has no special root meaning, or not one I could find the word seems to be clipped to make it no longer have the same meaning whilst sounding good i.e Android -> Ndroid -> Droid -> Roid. I'd certainly go with Droid out of that list.

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    And then comes google and names their mobile operating system android as well, which has nothing to do with a robot and is just software. Though the logo resembles an R2D2 with arms ;) – Thomas Dec 17 '15 at 9:57
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    A praise for citing the greek origin of the word ^_^ – user41156 Dec 17 '15 at 11:40
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    I suppose by strict definition, we could call a mannequin an android. – Michael Itzoe Dec 17 '15 at 15:08
  • The Greek part of this answer is not correct. Andro = man and oid (or id) = like or similar to. Android is manlike, droid is a simple shortening of that word. – Escoce Dec 17 '15 at 15:14
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    Also, the use of "android" to refer to all humanoid robots is also incorrect, as "andro-" specifically refers to males. A robot shaped like a woman (e.g. Dot Matrix from Spaceballs) would be a "gynoid", but hardly anyone uses that term. – Darrel Hoffman Dec 17 '15 at 15:14
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  1. Lucas seems to have been the first to popularize the term, because Google N-gram doesn't show any meaningful usage in that sense before 1976.

  2. However, the term wasn't invented by him, despite the infamous LucasArts trademark of the word.

    Wikipedia lists first usage of it in that sense as:

    The term Droid was first used in a 1952 sci-fi story by Mari Wolf, "Robots of the World! Arise!", published in "If Worlds of Science Fiction", July 1952.

    "Jack shook his head. "It's crazy. They're swarming all over Carron City. They're stopping robots in the streets--household Robs, commercial Droids, all of them."

  3. While it's not clear canonically why the word was used for non-human-looking robots, it does make a lot of sense:

    The droids (especially the two protagonists - C-3PO and R2-D2 - meant to evoke the two peasants from The Hidden Fortress) - are human-like not in their appearance, but in their personas.

  4. Please note that it is entirely possible (though not shown in canon) that the term originated with only humanoid androids, but then language evolved and it eventially applied to non-humanoid ones as well. This process isn't unique to Basic - it's the same in English (e.g. "xerox" meant using Xerox Corporations' copier, and evolved to mean any copying. "google" seems to have evolved to mean any searching, not merely using Google.com).

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  • Thanks for quoting some of the the 1952 Mari Wolf story, but they sound a lot more like shortened slang terms, Robs = Robots, Droids = Androids. Was "Droids" used in that story as a name on it's own, or just as a shorter quicker way of saying Android? – Xen2050 Dec 17 '15 at 10:37
  • @Xen2050 - I would expect household robots to be humanoid and commercial ones not to be. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 17 '15 at 13:54
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    Though not perhaps canonical, I really like point 3. The 'droids in Star Wars were absolutely human like in their personalities. – DA. Dec 17 '15 at 23:06
  • @Xen2050 Mari Wolf's story "Robots of the World! Arise!" is available as a Project Gutenberg etext. The exact usage of the form "Droid" in Mari Wolf's fictional universe is anybody's guess, seeing as it occurs only once in the story. For all I know that may be the one and only appearance of the word droid anywhere in the world before Star Wars. – user14111 Dec 19 '15 at 4:18
  • @user14111 - possible. Googe N-Gram is pretty thin – DVK-on-Ahch-To Dec 19 '15 at 12:13
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In Star Wars, the term droid is exclusively used to refer to all robots.

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    @PlasmaStarfish A shortened version of Andriod that came about in the 70's. In Star Wars, however it is used differently. The same way that the word force is used differently. – ibid Dec 17 '15 at 3:17
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    It's used like 'Walker' in the Walking Dead. That universe has never heard the term 'Zombie' so they made up a different word to describe them. Star Wars universe uses 'Droid' to mean 'Robot' – Robotnik Dec 17 '15 at 3:19
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    Luke Skywalker uses the term "robot" once in A New Hope – Thirsty Kitty Dec 17 '15 at 4:10
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    @CodeswithHammer youtu.be/5GFW-eEWXlc?t=1733 – ibid Dec 17 '15 at 16:12
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    @ibid that's one of the more delightfully absurd things I've seen in a while. – MikeTheLiar Dec 17 '15 at 21:16
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While R2D2 is not very much human like, it still has enough similarities to be considered more human-like than a computerized milling machine or autopilot-equipped aircraft, for instance. It is a personality capable of causing feelings for the reader.

R2D2 is an equal partner to C3PO, and not some device that could be its accessory.

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3

why is R2D2 considered a droid rather than just a robot

Originally, in the 1921 play R.U.R. by Karel Čapek, the term robot appears for the first time (it remains unclear whether Karel or his brother is the original author of the word itself) as a label for a humanoid artificial life form, as a trademark name for a company product. They had very human-like appearance and were even often mistaken for people in the novel.

So, basically, both words are equal in their original meanings, and what happened to the word robot in our galaxy has happened to the word droid in the galaxy far away.

Edit: It just crossed my mind that Čapek may not have been that widely circulated outside our own planet. His works are still worth reading a hundred years later, though.

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    very nicely explained. – Fattie Dec 17 '15 at 21:35
  • But R.U.R. was a play, not a novel. Unless there was a novelization?? Loved War with the Newts. – user14111 Dec 19 '15 at 4:36
  • @user14111 yes, you are right, thanks! – Pavel Dec 19 '15 at 7:50
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The term Droid was first used in a 1952 sci-fi story by Mari Wolf, "Robots of the World! Arise!", published in "If Worlds of Science Fiction", July 1952:

"Jack shook his head. "It's crazy. They're swarming all over Carron City. They're stopping robots in the streets--household Robs, commercial Droids, all of them."

"household Robs"? Pronounced "Robes" I would imagine?...but I've never heard nor read "Robs" elsewhere. Have I? Have you?

It's interesting to note the script for the aforementioned A New Hope refers to droids as "robots" almost exclusively, as Luke does on Tatooine moments after Ben's "Sandpeople always ride single file to hide there [sic] numbers" line ["If they traced the robots here, they may have learned who they sold them to. And that would lead them home!"].

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    "robs" is used quite often through robopocalypse. more importantly, this doesn't answer the question in any way. – phantom42 Dec 17 '15 at 16:14
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post. - From Review – phantom42 Dec 17 '15 at 16:14
  • Sorry phantom42 this is new to me, apologies. I think what I meant to opine re: "why is R2D2 considered a droid rather than just a robot?" is that droid refers to a mobile robot with some sentience (autonomy?). Right? Isn't that correct? And if that is not common wisdom then I at least wanted to point out Luke's use of the term "robot" in dialogue (i.e., droids are robots but not necessarily vice versa, QED), and that "robot" is well used in the "Star Wars universe" (certainly in Lucas' scripts if not his dialogue). – alsticky Dec 17 '15 at 16:27
  • The term "robot" is used well through the scripts, but only in dialogue one single time. Similarly, lightsabers are only referred to by that name in dialogue. In description, they're always referred to as "laser swords". Lucas often used descriptive text in the direction portions of his scripts versus the in-universe name, so using "robot" off-screen isn't really evidence of anything. – phantom42 Dec 17 '15 at 17:04
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I believe Plasma is possibly fundamentally asking:

"Aren't all 'robots' shaped like humans - otherwise you would not call it a robot? You can only call it a 'robot' if it's human-shaped, right?"

IF that is what you are asking, Plasma, the answer is simply no, that is definitely not the case. Today in the real world, and in all sci-fi settings I know of, "robot" very much means "any robot". NOT only robots which are "shaped like a human". Indeed, if I'm not mistaken, the most common existing robot today is the Roomba,

enter image description here

and the most advanced robots today are certainly assembly industrial robots

enter image description here

These all look nothing like a human. Indeed, there are very few robots (the total number might be "20" or something) that are humanoid, such as Honda's "Asimo"...

enter image description here

If your additional question is about the word "Droid", in short that is simply an invention of George Lucas (although, sure, it may have been used earlier in certain obscure books: it's almost impossible to be the absolutely first person to author a word).

Now, it seems that in Star Wars, the word "droid" is used exactly as we use the real word robot. That is to say, "droid" in Star Wars means "all robots"

And indeed, it seems that by far most "droids" (ie, "robots") in Star Wars (just like in the real world) are NOT particularly humanoid.

If you're wondering where the term "Android" comes from, it has been in use since the 1800s. "Droid" would seem to be an invention by Lucas based on "Android".

HOWEVER.......

IT IS TRUE THAT since in our real world, "Android" tends to mean exactly "a robot that IS INDEED human-shaped", it's perhaps somewhat confusing that "droid" seems to be the Star Wars word for "any robot of any shape".

  1. "robot" in the real world: ANY shape of robot

  2. "android" in the real world: ONLY humanoid robots. (it's worth noting that these of course barely exist yet, there are only 2 or 3 of them and they can barely walk)

  3. "droid" in the Star Wars universe. I believe this is exactly equivalent to what we call "robot", ie ANY shape of robot

  4. "robot" in the Star Wars universe. I believe this word is not used in the Star Wars universe.

Two relevant points,

3.a. I'd say that in the Star Wars universe, all robots (droids) are mobile, whether tiny or large they generally can move around (often with different humorous modes of locomotion, in contrast to humanoid shapes). Of course, here in the real world of 2015, there are almost no moving robots (only the Roomba and a few military robots that move on tank tracks), numerically basically all real robots of today (setting aside Roomba) are fixed in place.

3.b. Many have intelligently pointed out on this page that R2D2 is perfectly human-like. He's a totally normal "person", with absolutely normal human-like characteristics (emotions, memory, humour, etc etc), he just happens to speak a different language and have wheels instead of legs. {It's interesting to contrast sci-fi characters such as say "Data", "Spock" or "The Terminator", so are supposed to be extremely non-human (no emotions, etc), but they do happen to have humanoid forms.} I don't think this applies to all "droids" in Star Wars though, I think many droids seen have "no personality".


Interesting question arising: Is the term "robot" ever used in the Star Wars universe? I believe not. Only "droid" is ever used.

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    Luke calls them robots on screen once in Episode 4, when he realizes that his aunt and uncle are in danger. – phantom42 Dec 17 '15 at 17:05
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    I certainly did not mean that. The term android specifically means "a robot with a humanoid appearance." I think that it is an inappropriate term for R2D2, who undisputably is a robot but looks nothing like a man. – half_an_egg Dec 17 '15 at 18:50
  • Hi Plasma. Pavel has the perfect explanation: in both our universe and the SW universe the relevant word has grown from meaning humanoid robots, to, all robots. – Fattie Dec 17 '15 at 21:35
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From the OP:

Oxford dictionaries defines "android" as:

a robot with a human appearance.

and further on

why is R2D2 considered a droid rather than just a robot

The Oxford English Dictionary Second Edition (2009) has as one of its definitions for droid:

A robot, freq. a humanoid one; an android.

so it's now also considered a synonym for robot.

Furthermore, this version of the Oxford English Dictionary cites as its earliest quotation for this definition:

1976 G. Lucas Star Wars iv. 56 'Droids can't replace a man, Luke.

which supports the answers that cite Lucas as popularizing the word.

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1

The real question isn't so much, what do these words mean, it's why did Lucas chose (or reinvent) the word droid for these characters. Simple: it's fun to say. It sounds good. He was writing a screenplay for a fun, exciting movie, not a treatise for the annual philologists' luncheon.

Moreover, it fits. Like the rest of this well-worn world, it seems to be a word that's been around for a very long time, reshaped, patched, roughed up, dirtied up a bit. Once android, then shortened to droid, perhaps it once applied only to more strictly anthropomorphic devices, and was over time casually extended to all devices with artificial intelligence, self-awareness, feelings- in short, personalities. And if there's one thing R2D2 has in abundance, it's personality.

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As far as I remember the original Star Wars, R2D2 was considered an "astromech", which makes even less sense as "mech" (being short of "mecha", which is short of "mechanic[al]") is generally considered to be two or more legged walking war machine with human pilot inside.

Needles to say, when George Lucas originally made the B-movie Star Wars, he wasn't too particular about the use of words, using what ever tech-hodgepodge he could easily find, remember or make up in his mind. He and his team probably didn't care to put too much effort in, as he thought it would be just another B-movie they make to get little more cash.

Another apparent sign of this is the name "Darth Vader" given to the main villain, "Darth" being corruption from "dark" (or worse, from "dart") and "Vader" being Dutch word for "father". Thus the main villain is quite literally named "Dark Father".

They pretty much went the whole script using whatever came to mind first and not giving second thought to it. My personal favorites were the werewolf-prop and the space camel-elephant blocking the view...

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