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

Marconi, inventor of the radio telegraph

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 more than 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, D.C., where French was not exactly a second language. So we’ll overlook the grammar.

For more on grammar, see below. 


Ken says:
August 18, 2012 at 10:38 pm (Edit)
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:
August 19, 2012 at 8:50 am (Edit)
Good point! You get an A for the grammar quiz!

Edouard Bernard says:
May 1, 2014 at 11:35 pm (Edit)
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!”:-)

stanito says:
June 3, 2013 at 9:23 am (Edit)
I had no idea, thanks forsharing this about Mayday😉

danman says:
December 12, 2013 at 8:59 am (Edit)
It means, “come help me”.

gshenaut says:
February 6, 2015 at 11:10 am (Edit)
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.

Thoughts: 5.1.15 | amendezvillamil says:
May 1, 2015 at 5:02 pm (Edit)
[…] Per my coworker Mariel, the word mayday is derived from “m’aidez,” French for help me. Fact. […]

What do you think?


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

  1. Peter Mar says:

    From Wikipedia:

    Frederick Stanley Mockford (1897 – 1 March 1962) was the originator of the uniform international distress signal “Mayday”. He was a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in Waddon in South London. When asked to think of a word that would indicate distress and would easily be understood by all pilots and ground staff in an emergency, he devised the term “Mayday” since much of the traffic at the time was between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France. The term is based on the French m’aider, a shortened version of venez m’aider (meaning “come help me”).

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: