Printable Version
Pronunciation: he-lê-kahp-têr Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: An wingless aircraft that can rise vertically, driven by one or two large propellers (rotors) atop it.

Notes: Whirly bitdToday's Good Word is seldom heard currently because of the various nicknames it has been given: copter, chopper, and the more creative whirly-bird that emerged from the Vietnam War. It may be used verbally: (heli)copters, (heli)coptered, (heli)coptering.

In Play: Like virtually all nouns in English, today's Good Word may be used attributively, like an adjective: "Tommy Rott's best idea at the aerodynamics company was the helicopter ejection seat." We now have the new concept of 'helicopter parent' raising its head in the US: "Preston Starch had a 'helicopter mom', who hovered over everything he did in his life—and still does." (A better word for "over-caring parent" is cosseter.)

Word History: Today's word came from French hélicoptère, coined by Gustave Ponton d'Amécourt in 1861 from Greek helix (helic-s) "spiral" + pteron "wing". Helix also appears in the phrase "double helix", the double spiral of DNA. The word itself came from a Proto-Indo-European word that spread throughout Indo-European languages. PIE wel- "turn, roll" became walzen "roll" in German, which was borrowed by English as waltz . It came directly to English as wallow. In Latin it became volvere "roll, turn" found in many English borrowings, such as evolve and revolve. Pteron goes back to the PIE word pt-, pet-, pot- "flow, fly" with variants we can't explain. We do know that we see it again in Greek potamos "river", incorporated in the name of that famous "river horse", the hippopotamus. (Rob Towart didn't have to helicopter today's Good Word to us; he just sent it by e-mail.)

Dr. Goodword,

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