1923, "mechanical person," also "person whose work or activities are entirely mechanical," from the English translation of the 1920 play "R.U.R." ("Rossum's Universal Robots") by Karel Capek (1890-1938), from Czech robotnik "forced worker," from robota "forced labor, compulsory service, drudgery," from robotiti "to work, drudge," from an Old Czech source akin to Old Church Slavonic rabota "servitude," from rabu "slave" (from Old Slavic *orbu-, from PIE *orbh- "pass from one status to another;" see orphan).
The Slavic word thus is a cousin to German Arbeit "work" (Old High German arabeit). The play was enthusiastically received in New York from its Theatre Guild performance debut on Oct. 9, 1922. According to Rawson the word was popularized by Karel Capek's play, "but was coined by his brother Josef (the two often collaborated), who used it initially in a short story." Hence, "a human-like machine designed to carry out tasks like a human agent."
"Young Rossum invented a worker with the minimum amount of requirements. He had to simplify him. He rejected everything that did not contribute directly to the progress of work—everything that makes man more expensive. In fact, he rejected man and made the Robot. My dear Miss Glory, the Robots are not people. Mechanically they are more perfect than we are, they have an enormously developed intelligence, but they have no soul." ["R.U.R."]
"a child bereaved of one or both parents, generally the latter," c. 1300, from Late Latin orphanus "parentless child" (source of Old French orfeno, orphenin, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos "orphaned, without parents, fatherless," literally "deprived," from orphos "bereft."
This is from PIE *orbho- "bereft of father," also "deprived of free status," from root *orbh- "to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another" (source also of Hittite harb- "change allegiance," Latin orbus "bereft," Sanskrit arbhah "weak, child," Armenian orb "orphan," Old Irish orbe "heir," Old Church Slavonic rabu "slave," rabota "servitude" (see robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa "heir," Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit "work," Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð "hardship, suffering, trouble").
As an adjective from late 15c., "bereft of parents," said of a child or young dependent person. Figurative use is from late 15c. The Little Orphan Annie U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York "Daily News." Earlier it was the name (as Little Orphant Annie) of the character in James Whitcomb Riley's 1885 poem, originally titled "Elf Child":
LITTLE Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board-an'-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun
A-list'nin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Orphant was an old, corrupt form of orphan, attested from 17c.