A dictionary of terms for beings that are somewhat like robots

Published

Quinn wrote:

sometimes i get really hung up on the fact that "android" is a gendered term and that no elegant-sounding alternative exists for a humanoid robot which isn't implicitly coded male or female

android
A robot that is designed to look and act like a human (not necessarily male) Wiktionary.

The Wiktionary editor who added “(not necessarily male)” is by intent or ignorance missing out on the root andro-. Wiktionary notes the etymology thusly:

From New Latin androides, from Ancient Greek ἀνδρός (andrós, man) (genitive of ἀνήρ (anḗr)) + -ειδής (-eidḗs), itself from εἶδος (eîdos, form, image, shape, appearance, look). Note the form ἀνδρώδης (andrṓdēs, manly) already existed in Ancient Greek.

ἀνήρ has the first definition “man (adult male)”, the second “husband”, and the third “human being, as opposed to a god”. If you’d like to delve into the question of whether it’s acceptable to use “man” to refer to “all humans”, be my guest, but don’t @ me.

Are there closely-related words? Sure. But none of them fit the genderless criteria:

gynoid
Female variant of "android".
androgynoid
Androgyne, not ungenderd.
agynoid
defined by a lack of gender, not ungendered
apogynoid
applies the apo- Greek root to gynoid, to indicate it's apart from the concept of gender, but this construction feels inadequate in its reliance upon gynoid to indicate the concept of gendered robots.

So let’s go looking for words for robots that … aren’t explicitly gendered, but are humanoid. First, what is a robot?

robot
1. A machine built to carry out some complex task or group of tasks by physically moving, especially one which can be programmed. Wiktionary
Derived from the old Church Slavonic word, robota, for servitude, forced labor, or drudgery. The word ... was a product of the central European system of serfdom by which a tenant’s rent was paid for in forced labor or service. Science Friday, " The Origin of the Word 'Robot'" published . [Rossum's Universal Robots] tells the story of a company using the latest biology, chemistry and physiology to mass produce workers who "lack nothing but a soul." The robots perform all the work that humans preferred not to do ....

Note that modern usage of “robot” is not necessarily humanoid! A robot vacuum cleaner is a robot, as is a robot arm in a factory, as is a robot crane, a robot snake, a robot mole.

Most examples of robots are fixed-purpose automatons with limited choice in fields not immediately related to the task for which they were built. From the beginning, robots have been seen as lesser beings, not human enough to be regarded. The word we’re seeking for should be respectful.

The word must satisfy these criteria:

You can read the dictionary below, or just skip to my conclusion.

Dictionary

agynoid
defined by a lack of gender, not ungendered, yet it uses the feminine gynoid as to refer to the concept of a gendered robot.
androgynoid
Androgyne, not ungenderd, and still derives from gynoid.
android
A robot that is designed to look and act like a human (not necessarily male) Wiktionary
The term is frequently used as a generic for all humanoid robots; Nono in Diebuster is labeled an android despite having the appearance of a young woman.
animatronics
These are generally cable-controlled puppets with animal or human appearances, and so while this term is ungendered and possibly humanoid, it lacks robotic qualities.
anthrobots
This would be Chuck E. Cheese and the band: automatons with no agency and a furry smile that perform for the entertainment of children.
anthropoid
"In the form of humans" is the literal meaning, but the derived term "anthros" has nonhuman implications of furriness. And it's not robotic in meaning.
apogynoid
applies the apo- Greek root to gynoid, to indicate it's apart from the concept of gender, but this construction feels inadequate in its reliance upon gynoid to indicate the concept of gendered robots.
automatons
Machines that follow a set of predetermined actions, without any free will. Wikipedia.
autonome
Something that is autonomous: ... self-owning, self-directed, conscious. It is the glory and tragedy of autonomes that they experience the joy of self-awareness and the terror of the ultimate dissolution of self into nonexistence at the end of life. You are an autonome: So am I. Neptune's Brood by Charles Stross. Autonomes have a sense of self.
biomimetics
Biomimetics or biomimicry is the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Wikipedia. Which is to say, you could have a biomimetic humanoid robot, which did its best to appear human and made use of designs inspired by human body parts. However, this term is not necessarily related to robotics.
bionic
Like biomimetics, bionics is the study and practice of applying systems found in nature to artificially-constructed systems. Comes with a bonus homonym: Bionicle, the biologial chronicle from Lego.
bot
Contraction of "robot", but in modern English usage it carries connotations of brainlessness and exploitation of innocent humans for the bot-owner's benefit.
cryptos
Made up for this listing, Cryptos are beings like Spookybot from Questionable Content. They're artificial intelligences that inhabit humanoid bodies, but are ineffably inhuman.
Inspired by the word cryptogender: a gender identity that one can't discern, describe or define in words, and which confuses or puzzles the owner.
cybeings
A portmanteau of cyber beings. Probably really, really pretentious, and "being" in common usage implies not human.
cybermen
Likely to confuse fans of Doctor Who, as these are a race of antagonistic cyborgs. Plus, there's that pesky -men suffix.
cybernetics
The nouned form of the adjective "cybernetic", this word usually refers to the electronics used to create a cyborg, and that's too meat-pulpy to suit our search criteria of a word that is wholly robotic.
The theory and science of communication and control in the animal and the machine; the art and stufy of governing and controlling automatic processes and communication. Wiktionary.
cybodies
A portmanteau of cyber and body.
Likely to confuse fans of the show Star Driver, as "cybody" is the term for many-story-tall magically-powered armors, driven by a human who rides in the cybody's chest or in a cybercasket attached to the cybody.
cyborg
1. A person who is part machine, a robot who is part organic.Wiktionary
2. A robot who has an organic past.Wiktionary
3. A human with electronic or bionic prostheses.Wiktionary
cybrains
I'm pretty sure this word has been used for cyborged brains.
cybot
I coined this word by merging cyber- and robot, but it turns out to have been a common coining. There's the Star Wars droid assassin, a Win32 trojan, a cookie compliance script, something from the Growtopia game, and probably other uses past the first page of DuckDuckGo.
Not gendered, very cyber, very robot: but not intrinsically humanoid.
cymek
These human-machine hybrids from the Dune prequel trilogy were originally humans, who have been upgraded by stripping their brains from their bodies, replacing the feeble body with a larger, immortal mechanical one. The oldest cymeks were named Titans, but all things considered, this is not a candidate for the name for humanoid robots of unspecified gender.
Cylon
A robot civilization in the Battlestar Galactica series that are murderously opposed to the protagonists. Sometimes "Cylon" is used to refer to the robots' progenitor race, who were lizardlike. Some were humanoid, but many were of non-humanoid forms. Derogatorily called "toasters" by humans.
In contrast to Star Trek's antagonistic Borg, the Cylons are fully inorganic, while the Borg are augmented organics.
droid
Now trademarked by Lucasfilm, this contraction of "android" applies in Star Wars to humanoid and nonhumanoid robots alike. It is without emotional affect, though.
drone
A remotely-controlled self-propelled device, lacking internal decisionmaking capability for anything other than the most routine decisions. A drone that flies can maintain level flight, but doesn't usually set its own waypoints. Very, very rarely humanoid.
Many meanings exist for this word, but rather than the biological ones this dictionary will focus on the technological definitions.
dyno
(made up for this collection) A shortened form of dynamo (an electrical generator for direct current with a mechanical mechanism) or dynamometer (a device for measuring force/torque/power), which should probably be limited to robots with powerful, but highly mechanical bodies.
Could be confused with the short form of dinosaur, or a Discord bot.
fembot
A female robot, generally one built for the purposes of satisfying the sexual desires of a human. Doesn't fit the genderless criteria.
golem
In Jewish folklore, a golem is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter, usually clay or mud. The animating influence comes from a scroll with any of a number of the Names of God written upon it. Wikipedia.
gynoid
Female variant of "android".
hominids
The -oid suffix gives the meaning: like a human.
Likely to confuse fans of the great apes.
homunculus
A representation of a small human being, says Wikipedia, but in popular culture it's a flesh golem or a false human created through alchemy.
H.R.U.G.
Humanoid Robot of Unspecified Gender. This acronym ticks all the boxes, save derogatory. The hr sound is uncommon in English. R-dropping turns the pronunciation of this word to "hug", which is good, but H-dropping makes it "rug", which is a floor covering designed to be walked upon. Don't walk on the HRUGs.
hucyber
Pronounced like 'Lucifer', this joins the hu- prefix with the cyber- prefix for double prefix action. Like human, but cyber.
Technically speaking hu- isn't the prefix, it's homo- and thus the neologism should be homocyber. I liked hucyber.
humaniform
The nouned contraction of the adjectivial "humaniform robot". Asimov used "humaniform" to describe robots whose external appearance was indistinguishable from humans. The most noteworthy example is R. Daneel Olivaw.
humanoid
The adjective "humanoid" is generic enough to apply to anything, not just robots.
While a contraction of "humanoid robot", the word humanoid on its own could be pronounced with the same sneer as "Mongoloid" or "Negroid". However, this is true of all -oid suffixed words, including hemhorroid.
Maschinenmensch
The robot at the center of the film Metropolis, commonly known as Maria.
metallo
An Asimovean term. Metallos were quite humanoid, except for their metallic skin. In one story, a doctor is depicted interacting with his patients all day, quite naturally, and is only revealed to the reader to be a metallo when he puts his hands into a furnace to sterilize them between patients. This word loses points on the scale of humanity.
mezzode
A cyborg, but with the bonus humiliation that The Department of Congruity classifies a mechanical body as a motor vehicle. Dresden Codak.
A related term: exode, an extropic mezzode. See cymek.
Moravecs
The Moravecs are autonomous, sentient, self-evolving biomechanical organisms. Not electronic, and not always human.
Omnic
These robots from the Overwatch video game began as a servant and manufacturing class subservient to humanity, before being deactivated, self-reactivating, and launching a war against humanity that ended with a fragile peace. Generally speaking, Omnics are humaniform without appearing human.
personoid
While human-like in mental composition, personoids have no physical body and reside completely within computers.
posthuman
from Dan Simmons' science fiction novels Ilium and Olympos, post-humans were once human. They could be considered uplifts, transhumans, or transcended humans.
R.
An honorific from Asimov's fiction. A robot named Daneel Olivaw would be addressed as "R. Daneel Olivaw" to indicate that the robot is a robot. This form of address was used for all robots, no matter how much they appeared human; R. Giskard Reventlov could not be confused with a human.
Could this possibly be pluralized as "Rs"?
Not to be confused with the usage of "R." as an honorific for kings or queens.
replicant
Not a gendered term! But also not one with pleasing connotations; the Blade Runner francise saw to it that they were depicted as subhumans to be feared or pitied, to be kept subservient.
Robbie
"Robbie" and its neighbors "Rob", "Robert", "Bob", "Bobbie", "Bert" are names that have often been named for robots. Yet these names are generally counted as male, so this name, too cannot be used for the humanoid robot of unspecified gender.
robot
1. A machine built to carry out some complex task or group of tasks by physically moving, especially one which can be programmed. Wiktionary
Derived from the old Church Slavonic word, robota, for servitude, forced labor, or drudgery. The word ... was a product of the central European system of serfdom by which a tenant’s rent was paid for in forced labor or service. Science Friday, " The Origin of the Word 'Robot'" published . [Rossum's Universal Robots] tells the story of a company using the latest biology, chemistry and physiology to mass produce workers who "lack nothing but a soul." The robots perform all the work that humans preferred not to do ....
simulacrum
A representation or imitation of a person or thing: a simulacrum does not even have to be physical. Plural form: simulacra.
skinjob
A slur upon robots with human appearances, in Blade Runner and other contexts.
synchro, selsyn
In electrical parlance, a selsyn or synchro is a specialized form of transformer, and the name is a portmanteau of "self" and "synchronizing". Wikipedia. If your worldbuilding includes robots that are composed of clusters of discrete computational nodes, whose sentience is emergent, you may wish to consider selsyn as a name for them.
synthoid
This term for humaniform synthetic lifeforms comes from G.I. Joe, but has appeared in other media. The synthoids are depicted as tools of the bad guys, but appear to have free will within the constraints of the orders given them. The term does not imply gender.
tik-tok
An Asimovean term for lesser humanoid robots, primarily used as subservient agricultural labor. In-story, the term was derogatory and demeaning, and used to contrast the tik-toks with real robots.
The proper name of a character from the Oz books by L. Frank Baum, which was published before the origin of the word "robot" in Rossum's Runiversal Robots. Humanoid in body plan, but not in appearance.
tulpa
A magical creature that attains corporeal reality, having been originally merely imaginary. Wiktionary.

Conclusion

In the end, I think these words are probably usable:

Sources