Not the sort of of Mayday that sets festive torrents of disenchanted proletarians to thronging the boulevards.
|Communist rally at Bastille, March 2012|
Nor the kind that sets traditionalists, Neopagans, Wiccans and assorted Tolkien fanciers to gadding about the Maypole.
|Are we gadding yet ?|
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Mais non, mais non. We mean this kind of Mayday.
|Scène de naufrage by Louis-Philippe Crépin|
Image: Wikimedia Commons
As in "M'AIDEZ", French for "Help Me!".*
It was, however, an Englishman by the most excellent name of Frederick Stanley Mockford who coined the term in 1923. A senior radio operator at Croydon Airport, Mockford apparently found himself in need of a better distress signal and was inspired by the fact that most of Croydon's air traffic was traded with Le Bourget in France (raising the interesting possibility that had the main route been to the Netherlands, we might all be saying "Mijhelpen!" instead).
Above all, "Mayday" was adopted for clarity, as "My transport vehicle is endangered" is cumbersome and can be mistaken for "My transpork vehicle is in manger", a situation which is quite inactionable for anyone but trained hog farmers. Indeed, even the inverse of Mayday is unmistakable; YADYAM, as a word, is as yet entirely undefined and therefore unlikely to come up in conversation. In fact, yadyam's first and only appearance in a dictionary dates to the 1796 edition of Le Grand Dictionnaire Géographique, Historique et Critique by Antoine Auguste Bruzen de la Martinière, in which it again goes entirely undefined.
|The undefined Yadyam|
Image: Google Books
Mais attends! In Hebrew, YAD means hand. And YAM means the sea. So the opposite of MAYDAY would then be "the hand of the sea" (which would be a fine title for the shipwreck painting above if the artist hadn't opted for the intensely prosaic "Scene of a Shipwreck"). Those inclined to muse on the unlikelihood of such serendipity might at this point be forgiven for suspecting Mr. Mockford of Kabbalistic inclinations. In fact, the numeric value of "Mockford", interestingly enough, yields "manifest/display (ChVH)", as well as the correspondences "gentile (GVI)" and "job (AIVB)". Indeed, he was likely a gentile and definitely had a job "manifesting" signals or "displays". But then the numeric calculator also yields "was black (DIH)", which, while possible, would have been astoundingly progressive for 1923.
Alors enfin, voilà. If after all that, the word Mayday still conjures images of Grace Jones's stunt double leaping off the Tour Eiffel while John Barry trills away in the background, we at ze Tao disclaim all responsibility.**
Isn't that nice of us?
* Actually, "m'aidez", a sentence fragment, means nothing on its own. The full phrase "pouvez-vous m'aider ?" would mean "can you help me?". The imperative "help me!" would be "aidez-moi !"
** Even though, in that particular case, May Day "was black". Ask your senior radio operator if Roger Moore is right for you.