What Does SOS Stand For?


A lot of people think that the distress signal is an abbreviation for “save our souls” or “save our ship.” But in reality, "save our souls" and "save our ship" are backronyms, and the letters don’t actually stand for anything.

In fact, the signal isn’t even really supposed to be three individual letters. It’s just a continuous Morse code string of three dots, three dashes, and three dots all run together with no spaces or full stops (…---…). Since three dots form the letter "S" and three dashes form an “O” in International Morse code, though, the signal came to be called an “SOS” for the sake of convenience. That connection has led to the letters coming into their own as a visual distress signal divorced from Morse Code, and those in need of rescue sometimes spell them out on the ground to be seen from above.

You could also break down the string into IJS, SMB and VTB if you wanted to.

The Logic Behind "SOS"

So why use that specific string of dots and dashes if there’s no meaning to it? Because it was the best way to get the job done.

When wireless radiotelegraph machines first made their way onto ships around the turn of the 20th century, seamen in danger needed a way to attract attention, signal distress, and ask for help -- a unique signal that would transmit clearly and quickly and wouldn’t be confused for other communications. At first, different organizations and countries had their own “in-house” distress signals. The U.S. Navy used “NC,” which was the maritime flag signal for distress from the International Code of Signals. The Marconi Company, which leased its equipment and telegraph operators to various ships, used “CQD.”  The “German Regulations for the Control of Spark Telegraphy” of 1905 mandated that all German operators use “…---…”.

Having these multiple distress signals was confusing and potentially dangerous. It meant that a ship in distress in foreign waters had a language barrier to overcome with would-be rescuers, even if using International Morse Code. Because of this and other issues, various countries decided to get together and discuss the idea of laying down some international regulations for radiotelegraph communications. In 1906, the International Wireless Telegraph Convention convened in Berlin, and delegates attempted to establish an international standard distress call. Marconi’s “-.-.--.--..”, and “………-..-..-..” (“SSSDDD”), which Italy had proposed at a previous conference, were deemed too cumbersome.  Germany’s “…---…”, though, could be sent quickly and easily and was hard to misinterpret. It was chosen as the international distress signal for the nations who met at the conference, and went into effect on July 1, 1908.

Getting on Board with "SOS"

The first recorded use of the “SOS” as a distress signal was just over a year later, in August, 1909. The wireless operators on the SS Arapahoe sent the signal when the ship was disabled by a broken propeller off the coast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.

Not everyone got on board with the new standard as quickly, though. The Marconi Company was particularly reluctant to give up on “CQD.” The Marconi operators on board the Titanic initially just sent that signal after the ship struck an iceberg, until the other operator suggested they try the new “SOS” signal, too.

Eye-Related Idioms From Around the World, Illustrated

"Apple of my eye." "Feast your eyes on this." "I have eyes in the back of my head." English has quite a few idioms that include the word "eye." But it's not the only language that does.

Contact lens retailer Lenstore gathered and illustrated 10 eye-related idioms from around the world that don't exist in English, which you can scroll through in the interactive infographic below or view here. In Spanish, the saying "Me costó un ojo de la cara," translated as "It cost me an eye from my face," means "to buy something that was extremely expensive." It's similar to the English idiom "It cost me an arm and a leg." In German, "Tomaten auf den Augen haben" ("To have tomatoes on the eyes") means "failing to spot something obvious."

The wonderful world of idioms stretches far beyond just eyes, though. Here, you can find out the origins of horse-related idioms like "hold your horses," and here you can learn about strange international rain-related idioms, like Greece's particularly peculiar "It's raining chair legs."

Learn more about how different cultures view the eye through the lens of these unique idioms below:

[h/t Lenstore]
Afternoon Map
The Literal Translation of Every Country's Name In One World Map

What's in a name? Some pretty illuminating insights into the history and culture of a place, it turns out. Credit Card Compare, an Australia-based website that offers its users assistance with choosing the credit card that's right for them, recently dug into the etymology of place names for a new blog post to create a world map that highlights the literal translation of the world's countries, including the United States of Amerigo (which one can only assume is a reference to Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer who realized that North America was its own landmass).

"We live in a time of air travel and global exploration," the company writes in the blog. "We’re free to roam the planet and discover new countries and cultures. But how much do you know about the people who lived and explored these destinations in times past? Learning the etymology—the origin of words—of countries around the world offers us fascinating insight into the origins of some of our favorite travel destinations and the people who first lived there."

In other words: there's probably a lot you don't know about the world around you. But the above map (which is broken down into smaller bits below) should help.

For more detailed information on the background of each of these country names, click here. Happy travels!


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