by Bob Cunningham(Word origins)
The AUE FAQ has a long and informative article on the International Distress Signal (...---...), which is commonly, but somewhat misleadingly, referred to as 'SOS'. An update to that article is now in order.
The FAQ says, in part:
The signal "...---...", recommended for international distress calls at the international Radio Telegraph Conference of 1906 and officially adopted in 1908, was not chosen for any alphabetic significance.
It should now be noted that that signal is no longer the official international distress signal. The Fresno Bee (Fresno, California) reported on 4 February 1999:
Now, even the most hapless technophobe can match the Morse
code just by pushing a button that, via the satellite-linked
Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (now in almost
universal use) can signal a vessel's exact position and the
nature of its problem.
As of Feb. 1, the Morse code is no longer the official
international distress signal [...].
('The Morse code' never was the official international distress signal, but the writer should be given an 'E' for effort. His or her message is still clear enough.)
It should also be noted, though, that "SOS" may not "go gentle into that good night". A news report on 24 February 1999 told of a group of parishioners who found themselves locked inside a church and faced with the possibility of spending the night there. They found a way to make long and short peals with the church bells, and their ...---... was clear enough to a passerby who brought help.
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