How Well Do You Know English Slang?
1861, from French hélicoptère "device for enabling airplanes to rise perpendicularly," thus "flying machine propelled by screws." The idea was to gain lift from spiral aerofoils, and it didn't work. Used by Jules Verne and the Wright Brothers, the word transferred to helicopters in the modern sense when those were developed in the 1920s. From Greek helix (genitive helikos) "spiral" (see helix) + pteron "wing" (see pterodactyl). Nativized in Flemish as wentelwiek "with rotary vanes."