Chopper vs. copter

  • Both chopper and copter have been widely used as abbreviations of helicopter since that craft became a military staple in the 1940s and ’50s. Copter was more common than chopper until the 1990s. Chopper is now more common, but copter may be making a comeback. This would be a useful development, as chopper has numerous other meanings, including (1) a tool used for chopping and (2) a customized motorcycle, and hence can cause confusion. Copter has no other definitions, so it bears no risk of confusion.


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    Instances of copter in current news stories are easy to find—for example:


    Missile Is Fired at Copter Over Baghdad, U.S. Says [NY Times]

    [T]he company issued a notice in January urging replacement of the studs, telling operators of the copter to substitute the parts within a year or 1,250 flight hours. [Globe and Mail]

    Laser blinds copter pilot carrying sick patient [Sydney Morning Herald]

    But chopper still prevails. Examples such as these are much more common:

    A list released by his office of all the chopper trips does not include any flights to the governor’s shore house … [Washington Post]

    Soldiers kept firing their machine guns into the air, to be followed later by a chopper circulating around our heads. [Guardian]

    Police were waiting when they returned to the chopper and it was flown to the airport under onboard escort. [New Zealand Herald]



    1. reardensteel says:

      Copter is less ambiguous, but chopper has a certain intangible quality that makes it attractive.

      It alludes to what a helicopter does (chops the air) and, frankly, just sounds cooler than copter.

    2. Many people also just use heli.

    3. Mark Dunne says:

      chopper is also slang for an automatic rifle used very often in southern rap.

    4. Daniela Matei says:

      How about Chopper as in a … motorcycle?

    5. As long as they fly and don’t crash, call them anything you want.

    6. CanadianKyosa says:

      Many misuses abound: boat and ship; motor and engine, etc. Since there was not info supplied on the difference, I will make it simple: a helicopter is a closed-in vehicle and a chopper is not. Example of a helicopter is the Huey and a chopper can be seen on M*A*SH. See, simple with no gibberish such as above.

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