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Find out why we say “Mayday” when we’re in distress

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Len Rome's Daily Feature of Little Known Facts

(WYTV)- “Mayday!” is an international distress call, airplane pilots, boat captains and some emergency response personnel use it.

We began to use this word just after World War I, as nations around the world realized we needed some word everyone would understand, besides the Morse code SOS.

Because air traffic was building between London and Paris, the radio experts decided on a French word
“Mayday,” the French pronunciation of “m’aider” (“help me”).

The U.S. started to use it in 1927, and you say it three times to get attention. But there’s another signal that means we’ve got a problem but it’s less urgent than a Mayday. Your boat ran out of fuel, or you’ve had a breakdown.

Again, we go to French and say “pan-pan.”

In French, a panne is a breakdown, a mechanical failure. In English, we pronounce it PAHN and sometimes PAN.

P-A-N can also sand for something: “possible assistance needed” or “pay attention now.”

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