In modern usage, this almost always means a person who controls the flight of an airplane. We also use it as a verb: To pilot a plane. The word first appeared in English in the early 1500s, and originally it referred to the person who controls the direction of a ship. In the 1800s, it came to mean the person who controls a balloon. It didn't take on the airplane meaning until the early 20th century. It stems from a Greek word, pedon, meaning "steering oar." That word is related to the Greek word pous, "a foot." So pilot is distantly related to octopus ("eight-footed") and podiatrist (someone who treats ailments of the feet). At one time, podiatrists treated ailments of the hands as well and were called chiropodists, from the Greek word for hand, chiro, combined with the Greek word for foot. A related word is chiropractor, combining the Greek word for hand and the Greek word praktikos, "practical." Which brings us back to pilot, because after you spend a few hours crammed into a modern airline seat, you need a chiropractor to straighten you out again.
(Will be published in the May 2010 issue of Denver's Community News.)
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