Mayday antedating

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Sep 3 05:35:15 UTC 2012

Great work, Victor. Here is an instance closer to the beginning of 1923.

Cite: 1923 February 2, The Times (London), New Air Distress Signal,
Page 7, Column 4, London, England. (Times Digital Archive GaleGroup)

[Begin excerpt]
Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing the letter "S" by telephone,
the international distress signal "S.O.S." will give place to the
words "May-day," the phonetic equivalent of "M'aidez," the French for
"Help me."
[End excerpt]

There is also an snippet instance in Punch (London Charivari) that GB
assigns a date of 1923. GB does not specify a month or day. Punch
acknowledges "Daily Paper" for the information. I suspect that The
Times reported it before Punch. Here is a link:


On Sun, Sep 2, 2012 at 11:23 PM, Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Victor Steinbok <aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Mayday antedating
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> 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.
> VS-)
> PS: As usual, my apologies if someone has already tracked this down.
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