i-eab5ab57e6939624f93faaecbfd98135-helicopter-Italian-army-RF.jpgThe other day I suddenly understood the etymology of the word “helicopter”. Many would probably try to take the word apart as heli-copter, which makes no sense. I mean, what does it mean to copt helis? “I am a copter and I sure love coptin’ them old helis.”

What you need to do is look at words like Pteranodon (meaning “tooth on wing”), Diptera (meaning “two-wings”) and “helix”. Helico-pter! Helix-wing! Suddenly there’s a new nerdy option for the hyphenation of that word.

I once read a newspaper article about record producer Phil Spector, where he was poetically described as “helicopter paranoid”. This expression has stayed with me as an unsolved mystery. What can the journalist have meant? That Phil was afraid of visitations by the genus Helicoptera? That he was so paranoid that his head was spinning faster than the rotor of a chopper? I wonder if it’s possible to be omnibus schizoid or tricycle neurotic.

I once saw Apocalypse Now re-made as a sword-and-sorcery fantasy stage play. The helicopters had been replaced by winged lizards. Now I wonder if they were pterodactyls and if the writer was on to the etymology of the word “helicopter”.

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  1. #1 Mark P
    June 22, 2007

    M-W online indicates you are correct:
    “Etymology: French hélicoptère, from Greek heliko- + pteron wing”

    I didn’t know that.

  2. #2 kai
    June 22, 2007

    It’s not unusual to be paranoid about Unmarked Black Helicopters in the Excitable States, so maybe Phil Spector suffers from it too?

  3. #3 Jon H
    July 8, 2007

    Maybe it means that Spector’s paranoia flits about, touching down heavily on one imagined threat, but then abandoning it later for something else, and so on.

  4. #4 Martin R
    July 9, 2007

    Or maybe it comes swooping onto unsuspecting Vietnamese villagers, blaring Wagner through loudspeakers and loving the smell of napalm in the morning?

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