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Old English roðor "paddle, oar," from Proto-Germanic *rothru- (cf. Old Frisian roðer, Middle Low German roder, Middle Dutch roeder, Dutch roer, Old High German ruodar, German Ruder "oar"), from *ro- "steer" (see row (v.)) + suffix -þra, used to form neutral names of tools. Meaning "broad, flat piece of wood attached to the stern of a boat and used for steering" is from c.1300. Spelling with -d- for -th- first recorded mid-15c. (cf. feather, mother, gather).
part of the steering apparatus of a boat or ship that is fastened outside the hull, usually at the stern. The most common form consists of a nearly flat, smooth surface of wood or metal hinged at its forward edge to the sternpost. It operates on the principle of unequal water pressures. When the rudder is turned so that one side is more exposed to the force of the water flowing past it than the other side, the stern will be thrust away from the side that the rudder is on and the boat will swerve from its original course. In small craft the rudder is operated manually by a handle termed a tiller or helm. In larger vessels, the rudder is turned by hydraulic, steam, or electrical machinery.