It’s the last word you want to hear when on a plane. Mayday. A rather strange word that does not actually mean anything in any language but as it turns out, that was the purpose. Here’s the story of aviation’s most infamous term.
In 1923, a senior radio officer at Croydon Airport in London named Frederick Stanley Mockford was asked to come up with a word that would indicate distress and one that would be easily understood by all pilots and ground staff in case of emergency. The word ‘help’ was obviously not an option since it is a word that’s being used in normal, everyday conversations.
Because Mockford was mainly dealing with the traffic between Croydon and Le Bourget Airport in Paris, France he had both English and French in mind. That’s why, he proposed the unique word ‘Mayday’ that derives from the French expression venez m’aider (come help me) but also sounds like an English word. (the article continues after the ad)
The word has been recognised ever since as an SOS distress signal and it’s used not just by pilots, but by many other groups such as firefighters, police and transportation organizations. The mayday call is always given three times in a row (“mayday-mayday-mayday”) so it’s easily distinguishable in noisy conditions.