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What’s the Origin and Meaning of SOS?

In 1979, the English rock band The Police sang about sending out an SOS in their song “Message in a Bottle.” However, people used this term long before Sting sang it into a microphone. You’ve likely seen or heard people use it in other media like movies and television.

So what does SOS mean, and where did it originate? We’ll examine what these letters are trying to communicate. Let’s dive in! 

What Is Morse Code?

Morse code is a communication method that replaces letters with long and short light or sound signals. The language consists of dots and dashes (or dits and dahs) to relay information. Its namesake is Samuel Morse, inventor of the telegraph.

On May 24, 1844, a person sent the first message by Morse code from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore, Maryland. It was the first means of communicating complex human thought over a long distance. We take this for granted now that we have email, text messages, and FaceTime.

What’s the Origin and Meaning of SOS?

SOS is the international sign for a ship experiencing a severe emergency. Using this code helps eliminate communication confusion, especially during a hazardous situation. The International Radio Telegraphic Convention adopted it in 1906.

Contrary to popular belief, the term was not initially an abbreviation for anything. It was simply a distinct Morse code sequence that the community agreed to use. Despite not being an abbreviation, many have begun to use it as “Save Our Ship” or “Save Our Souls.” Since 1906, people have widely used the term outside the maritime community. Many use it to communicate that they need help or assistance.

Is Morse Code Easy to Learn?

Like any new language, Morse code takes time to learn. If you dedicate time and focus to learning the language, you can get a basic understanding and grasp of it. You’ll be translating and writing messages in no time.

After a couple of months of practicing, you’ll likely translate at a rate of 10 to 15 words per minute. However, if you keep at it, you can quickly increase your abilities and might translate entire words instead of individual letters.

SOS written out in pills
Make asking for help easy by learning how to use Morse code.

Who Uses Morse Code Today?

While some languages have died off, Morse code is not one of them. It’s alive and well in many industries today. Some professions even require individuals to have a working knowledge of it.

Radio Operators

Many amateur radio operators still use Morse code. They can communicate with others over extremely long distances and use very little bandwidth. This could be helpful during a natural disaster or if a cellular network goes down. Until February 23, 2007, anyone wanting to receive an amateur radio license had to pass a Morse code test.

Communications Operators

During an emergency or disaster, communication operators may have to rely on Morse code. This will help communicate critical information with emergency dispatchers and the general public. It could help provide essential safety instructions or information regarding how they should respond to the situation to maximize safety.


Did you know that until 1999, United States Navy ships monitored for distress signals sent using Morse code? Despite removing the requirement, the Navy still teaches many sailors to read, send, and receive messages in Morse code. It’s an effective means of communicating from one ship or submarine to another.

Air Traffic Controllers/Pilots

Despite starting as a maritime language, the aviation community has also used Morse code. While GPS and other high-tech devices have made Morse code less common, many pilots and air traffic controllers find it beneficial.

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SOS help station
Being able to send out an SOS isn’t the only benefit that comes from learning Morse code.

Benefits of Learning Morse Code

While we don’t anticipate Morse code replacing text messaging or cell phones anytime soon, there are some benefits to learning it. Let’s examine a few benefits you can expect from learning Morse code.

Communicate During Emergencies

When you know Morse code, you’ll have a way to communicate during an emergency. Whether transmitting it over a HAM radio or with a flashlight, you can communicate essential information to others quickly and effectively.

While it will require the receiver to be able to translate and understand Morse code, it’s better than nothing. Once you’ve learned Morse code, you can use almost anything to tap or light up and communicate a message.

Personal Achievement

If you want to gain a sense of personal achievement, learning Morse code can do that. It takes time, commitment, and effort to learn any new language, including Morse code. If you stick to it, you’ll progress in translating and communicating. As your speed and accuracy improve, you’ll feel good and want to keep improving.

Mental Enrichment

One thing we don’t want to do is to stop learning. Keeping our brains fresh requires constant mental enrichment. As a result, many people pick up a new hobby to keep exercising their mental muscles.

If you’re looking for a new hobby, why not learn Morse code? It can be a fun way to impress your friends and family when you’re bored waiting for food at a restaurant or trying to kill time.

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Learning Morse Code Could Be Helpful

You never know when learning Morse code could come in handy. You could experience a situation where your only way to communicate with emergency services is through Morse code. If that’s the case, knowing Morse code could save your life. You’ll be thankful that you took the time and effort to invest in learning a helpful language.

What did you think “S.O.S.” stood for? Tell us in the comments!

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