phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at


Posted by Sauerkraut on May 02, 2002

In Reply to: SOS/SSS/CQD/MAYDAY posted by ESC on April 14, 2002

: : : :
: : : : : It may mean, "Save Our Ship"

: : : : : OOps I erased some stuff! Anyhow does it mean like the sorrows and heart aches in our lives? Save or Ship, is that what that could mean? Julie

: : : Not "save OR ship," which sounds like a mailroom employee asking the supervisor for instructions--"Am I to keep this or send it out?" "Save OUR ship." In Morse code, SOS is three dots, three dashes, three dots.

: : : From The American Heritage Dictionary:
: : : S O S
: : : 1. The letters represented by the radiotelegraphic signal . . . _ _ _ . . . , used internationally as a distress signal, particularly by ships and aircraft.
: : : 2. Any call or signal for help.

: : : So if you found the phrase "our SOS" in a context where Definition #2 makes sense, that's what it means. "Nobody responded to our SOS" means "Nobody helped us when we asked."

: :
: : The letters SOS have been variously rendered as Save Our Ship as noted above, or sometimes Save Our Souls. It is likely that these verbalizations came after the fact. Early telegraphers chose the combination because it was easily sent and recognized by even non-telegraphers. No English words begin with "sos", thus making the combination even more unique.

: : Now for the next question: whence the modern voice radio usage of "May Day" as a distress call?

: SOS/SSS/CQD/MAYDAY -- "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) CQD; MAYDAY ? ?One of the telegraph symbols for requesting aid was CQD (CQ, the general call alerting other ships that a message follows, and the D standing for ?danger?). But these letters, proposed after Titanic sank in 1912, proved unsatisfactory for technical reasons and the easy-to-remember dashes and dots that coincidentally spell out SOS were retained. ?Mayday,? not SOS is the oral radio signal for requesting aid and probably derives from the French m?aidez, ?help me.?? From the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).

The French explanation of MAYDAY makes sense. We need to have an experienced Morse code telegrapher give us some help. CQ to my knowledge is an easily sent two letter code for "seek you" - a general request for someone who receives your signal to respond. This lends credence to the CQD use for a distress signal.