Mayday antedating

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 3 03:23:43 UTC 2012

There is an absolute limit, apparently, on dating "Mayday", as Wiki
states that it was invented in 1923 at Croydon. It's actually one of the
better known histories, given that we know who, where and roughly when
(no date is specified, but, I'm sure, someone, somewhere has recorded
that little bit of history too).

> The Mayday callsign originated in 1923 by Frederick Stanley Mockford
> (1897–1962).[4] A senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London,
> 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. "Venez m'aider" means "come help me."[5]

But the OED only gives a 1927 quote:

> 1927 /Internat. Radio Telegraph Convention/ 51 Rules apply to the
> radio telephone distress call which consists of the spoken expression
> /Mayday/, (corresponding to the French pronunciation of the expression
> 'm'aider').

I found a 1923 citation (although Google incorrectly lists the whole
volume as 1922).
The Wireless Age. Volume 10. June 1923
"May Day" is Airplane SOS. p. 52/3
> ENGLISH aviators who use radio telephone transmitting sets on their
> planes, instead of telegraph sets, have been puzzling over the problem
> of choosing a distress call for transmission by voice. The letters SOS
> wouldn't do, and just plain "help!" was not liked, and so "May Day"
> was chosen. This was thought particularly fitting since it sounds very
> much like the French m'aidez, which means "help me."

Without getting into the Croydon Field archives, this is probably as
close as we are likely to get, although there might be a newspaper or
magazine article that pushes it back a few days--or maybe even a couple
of months.


PS: As usual, my apologies if someone has already tracked this down.

The American Dialect Society -

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