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This blog is about the fascinating, fun, and challenging things about the English language. I hope to entertain you and to help you with problems or just questions you might have with spelling and usage. I go beyond just stating what is right and what is wrong, and provide some history or some tips to help you remember. Is something puzzling you? Feel free to email me at wordlady.barber@gmail.com.
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Friday, September 3, 2010

Word of the Week: pilot

Pilots will be showing off this weekend at Toronto's annual air show. To designate someone in charge of a boat, the English had been quite happy with the Anglo-Saxon word “steersman” till the mid-1400s. Why they decided they needed to replace it with a nifty new French word, “pilot”, we don't know. The French word came via Latin from the Greek pedota, from pedon (an oar or rudder). Since there were no aircraft, “pilot” was originally confined to people steering boats, but in the 19th century we see pilots in hot-air balloons, and just two years after the Wright brothers made their first flight in 1905, the word was being used of fliers.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.