Mayday, Mayday!

Why is that a call for help?

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

The distress signal "Mayday!" doesn't come from May day, but rather from "French m'aidez or m'aider 'help me!,'" to quote the Oxford English Dictionary. Now you know—and knowing is half the battle.

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  1. Eugene give more recorded talks!! The few on youtube were great!

  2. I wonder where they get “m’aidez”, which is ungrammatical in the imperative. Strangely, the wiki entry said that this came from a shortened version of “venez m’aider”, but someone just now changed this to “a shortened form of ”venez m’aidez”’, which is just wrong.

  3. and knowing is half the battle

    I feel like you’re too old to be quoting GI Joe.

    1. I picked it up from my brother Sasha, and I think he in turn picked it up from the GI Joe cartoon, which aired in the mid-1980s; he was around 10 then.

      1. The cartoon television show where both sides fired rifles with laser looking projectiles and while they blew up buildings and vehicles, no one ever died. Classic.

  4. PAN-PAN, the lesser known urgency signal for situations that don’t present the grave and immediate danger that calls for a MAYDAY, also comes from French, from “une panne” a (mechanical) breakdown.

    1. There’s also the proword SECURITAY, which is from French “securit?.”

      1. That’s s?curit?, I don’t think you gain any points for going only half-pedant.

  5. Uh oh…are the Repubs going to pass a law that US sailors and pilots cannot use MAYDAY in an emergency because of the French origin?

    Just like they changed French Fries to Freedom Fries in response to France’s opposition to the proposed invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    Because Repubs are always working on the important issues….

    1. No need. The other side will get their first, because clearly this is cultural appropriation.

    2. Thanks for bringing politics into this.

  6. And the Neo-Pagans on a sinking boat are on the radio calling out “Beltane!”

  7. “May day” is a universal distress signal because it is easy to pronounce regardless of one’s native tongue.

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