Before the term came to refer to aviators, a pilot was one who guided or navigated in general, either literally (like a driver) or figuratively (like a pastor). The word was borrowed toward the end of the fifteenth century from Middle French, and that came at some point in the mid-fourteenth century from Italian piloto, still with the same definition. The earliest use we have of that in text is from 1282, and, one way or another, it all traces to the Ancient Greek word pedotes, meaning "helmsman". Pedotes stems from pedon, which referred to steering oars, and that's thought to be related to pous, the word for "foot", because of a shared flat shape. If that's true, then it would finally derive from Proto-Indo-European reconstruction ped, also "foot" (and forming words like podium, pedal, expedition, foot, foosball, pedigree, and more). Pretty interesting!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.