Myth # 93: The word “Mayday” comes from the French “M’aidez,” or “Help me!”

Marconi, inventor of the radio telegraph

Not a myth–this is true! A quick check of the OED shows the origin of this English word is French for “Help me!” The Oxford English Dictionary says it is a phonetic reproduction of the French that has become an international signal of distress. The International Radio Telegraph Convention of 1927 lists 51 Rules, and this is among them. So the word “mayday” was officially born in 1927.

As one alert reader pointed out, the French is wrong. “Help me!” in French would be “Aidez-moi!” But then, Marconi was Italian. And if it wasn’t his fault, the International Radio Telegraph Convention was held in Washington, where French was not exactly a second language. So we’ll overlook the grammar.  

 

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8 Responses to Myth # 93: The word “Mayday” comes from the French “M’aidez,” or “Help me!”

  1. Ken says:

    m’aider (to help me) can appear only in the company of a verb: Il faut m’aider (You must help me ). In French, Help me! (as quoted) is Aidez-moi! But, I suppose, Marconi was Italian, not French.

    • marymiley says:

      Good point! You get an A for the grammar quiz!

    • Edouard Bernard says:

      Strictly speaking, and speaking as someone who is majority French and a French speaker,… not true. “M’aidez” is a perfectly adequate response to danger stimulation. After all… if you were drowning in the middle of a pond, you wouldn’t bother shouting out “You must help me!”… you would simply shout “HELP!” 🙂

  2. stanito says:

    I had no idea, thanks forsharing this about Mayday 😉

  3. danman says:

    It means, “come help me”.

  4. gshenaut says:

    It’s not m’aideZ that mayday comes from, it’s m’aideR (as in [venez] m’aider). So to some extent, it is after all a myth that it comes from m’aidez.

  5. […] Per my coworker Mariel, the word mayday is derived from “m’aidez,” French for help me. Fact. […]

  6. FormozaFolio says:

    it is a short version of “venez m’aider”

    The Mayday procedure word was originated in 1923, by a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London.The officer, Frederick Stanley Mockford, was asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency. Since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, he proposed the word “Mayday” from the French “m’aider”, a shortened version of “venez m’aider” (meaning “come and help me”)

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