Turns out that the word helicopter is made from the the classic Greek stems helico, meaning spiral, and pter, meaning winged, as in pterodactyl or pterosaur or pterpaulanmerisaur. Which means that helicopter should be pronounced helicoter, long o, silent p, which will make you even more irritating to your friends. Try it next time one is noisily circling the neighborhood while you are all trying to watch your favorite show. Fucking helicopters they shout. That’s pronounced heliCOter you shout back. They stare at you. The P is silent, you shout. Or scream, really, so they can understand the important phonological distinction in all that noise. But no one has ever screamed that a P is silent before, not ever. It’s not something one would ordinarily scream, not like screaming fire or watch out or Stella. So now everyone is staring at you, the helicopter is gone, and you wished you’d never read this post.

2 thoughts on “Phonology

  1. Interesting. I was curious about the autogyro — that thing that looks like a helicopter but has passive rotating blades on top — which is now as dead as the dodo. (We’ve got decades of old copies of Popular Mechanics on CD-ROM at home, which makes for amusing skimming, and those gizmos show up a lot in the 1930’s. Like airships, they were supposed to be the aviation of the future.)

    Anyway, research shows that it was originally autogiro, that it was a trademark, and that it was a Spanish invention. So I guess it should be ow-toe-GEE-row and not AW-toe-ji-row.

    But then, aeroplane is far superior to airplane. As encylopaedia is superior to encyclopedia. Diphthongs rule OK.


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