Helmer (n.)?

In my mind, ‘helm‘ is a noun: most basically, the steering wheel of a ship. Hence, to take the helm. The person who does so is “at the helm”, and is called a helmsman (or helmsperson, blah blah blah). This applies literally, when talking about ships (avast!), and also idiomatically, with regard to controlling the direction of something tangible (like a car) or abstract (like a strategy).

But then I saw this:


Apparently the person at the helm is not a helmsman/person, but a helmer. A HELMER? Helmer: Noun. No, really? Considering that this was the Greater Union cinema timetable, I was willing to accept it as a grammatical anomaly unless a reliable second opinion could prove otherwise, so I turned to the most reliable second opinion in existence: the OED. And I was shocked:

Apparently, helmer IS a noun, and a specific one at that: a person who directs a film (etc). But note also, that it is only colloquial, and only in the United States, and the first recorded appearance was only 1974 (to me, half a century at the very least is a good indicator of a well-entrenched word) AND it’s still only a draft entry.

So I say ‘helmer’ is a dumb, made-up, superfluous word. Who says ‘helmer’ anyway? No-one. Because there is no need to.

A movie director is a movie director:


{ Tim Burton via OvationTV }

And a person at the helm can just be called a helmsman/person… er, or a Captain…


{ Captain Jack Sparrow via imdb }

‘Nuff said*, at least on my part.



NB. No honestly, I was inspired by the terribly worded movie timetable. The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp joint appearance came later, and as a complete fluke, which I can attribute partly to coincidence, and partly to a penchant for my favourite director and his favourite leading man.


* Not surprisingly, the phrase ’nuff said’ originated not with Stan Lee, nor with Frank ‘Nuff Said’ Catton in Ocean’s Thirteen, but on the stage of a 19th-century theatre. See true/interesting etymology about halfway down this article.

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One thought on “Helmer (n.)?”

  1. As someone who’s written about the movie industry for more than a decade, I’m among the 50 percent or so in your poll who use it all the time, simply due to the need for a synonym for “movie director” instead of writing “movie director” all the time. You’ll find it mostly in jargon-y publications, like Variety and The Hollywood Reporter. -ae

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