SOS doesn’t stand for or represent any letters, rather it’s a representation of a Morse code distress signal. SOS is a continuous Morse code string of three dots, three dashes, and three dots (…—….). Since three dots represent “S” and three dashes represent “O” in Morse code, SOS became to be known as a distress signal for those not using Morse code.
So, you might be wondering how this distress signal came to be. Before wireless voice communication was invented, seamen used wireless telegraphs to attract attention or send signal distress to other nearby ships. At first, different countries and organizations created different codes. It wasn’t long before everyone realized a unified international signal needed to be used.
At the International Wireless Telegraph Convention in 1906, attendees were tasked with creating this international distress code. Longer codes such as “-.-.–.–..”, and “………-..-..-..” were proposed but were deemed too cumbersome and shot down. Eventually, Germany’s “…—…” (SOS) was chosen as the international standard and went into effect on July 1, 1908.
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- The SOS signal was first used on June 10th, 1909 when the Cunard Liner SS Slavonia was wrecked off the Azores.
- During World War II, additional codes were created to include details about attacks. For example, SSS signaled a submarine attack.
- Morse code was created by Samuel Morse and Alfred Vail in the 1840s.