Posted by ESC on April 10, 2002

In Reply to: S.O.S. guess posted by TheFallen on April 10, 2002

: : What does this phrase mean?

: It's hard to tell without a little more context. S.O.S., standing for Save Our Souls, is an internationally recognised distress call, used particularly by the crew of ships or aeroplanes, when they fear they are about to sink or crash, and when normal voice communications are impossible - otherwise they'd probably use "Mayday", (from "m'aidez", "help me" in French).

: To send an S.O.S. code with a flashlight for example, one would make three short flashes, then three long ones, then three short ones again. You could do the same with sound, using short taps and long ones if unfortunate enough to be trapped inside the hull of a ship, or something. The S.O.S. code comes straight from the days of Morse Code, where I suppose it was felt that transmitting an "S" (... or dit dit dit), followed by an O (--- or dah dah dah), followed by a final "S", was both easily achieved and more importantly easily recognisable.

: Getting back to "our S.O.S.", without any further context to go on, I'd guess it means our desperate plea for help.

SOS/SSS -- "Many people believe SOS stands for 'Save Our Ship,' 'Save Our Souls,' 'Stop Other Signals.' Actually, the letters have no significance whatever. The first distress call used by the early Marconi Company was CQD -- CQ being the general call to alert other ships that a message is coming and D standing for 'danger' or 'distress.' 'For various technical reasons this proved unsatisfactory and in 1908, by international agreement, a signal made up of three dits, three dahs and three dits was adopted as the one most easily transmitted and understood. By coincidence, this signal is translatable as SOS. During World War II a new distress signal, SSS, was devised for use only when the cause of the distress was a submarine torpedoing." From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1977, 1988)