What Does 'SOS' Mean? Surprisingly, It's Likely Not What You Think

Plus, how it can be used to get out of tight situations.

We live in a world driven by acronyms. Every day there seems to be another one invented. LOL, TGIF, BYOB, WYSIWYG (I had to look this one up!)... It only stands to reason that at first glance, SOS must stand for something too, right? Well, we'll fill you in on everything there is to know about what SOS means.

I am sure you have seen movies where people have laid out SOS in sticks or stones on a deserted island, desperate to draw attention to themselves. But why do they do this, and where did this idea come from?

Keep reading to learn more about how the surprising meaning of SOS, how SOS came to be and how it is still used today.

What does SOS mean?

Many people mistakenly believe the letters stand for "save our souls" or "save our ship." However, instead of individual words creating an acronym, the letters actually do not stand for anything! It is more like a symbol that just stands out as "send help."

SOS (pronounced as the letters S-O-S) is used as a distress call, signifying that someone needs assistance.

Related: You’ve Heard It Plenty of Times, but What Exactly Does ‘In Lieu Of’ Mean?

So, what does SOS actually stand for?

SOS is just that—SOS. It was derived from Morse code and recognized as an international standard signaling danger, or the need for aid.

Using wireless telegraphy, it would sound like three-dits / three-dahs / three-dits. Morse code can be used visually as well, using the same series only with flashes of light.

Related: How to Order an 'Angel Shot' and What Message It Gives the Bartender

Where does the term SOS come from?

Before radio communication in the early 1890s, seagoing ships had created ways to visually signal when they were in distress by using flags, flares, bells and foghorns.

But the invention of radio communication, or wireless telegraphy, was a game changer in helping evolve one's ability to signal for assistance when in need. The need for a standardized version of distress came through maritime use first.

Initially, there were a variety of rescue distress signals used throughout the world, including "CQD," "SOE" and "NC." However, in 1906, sending out "SOS" in a continuous stream was suggested and by 1912, it was officially the global standard.

Related: What Does an Upside-Down Pineapple Mean? The Hidden Message Behind the Symbol

Why was SOS chosen as a distress signal?

SOS was chosen as a distress signal for its simplicity.

The combination of three dots, followed by three dashes and then another three dots (...- - -...) was easy to remember and use, and it was quite recognizable. It also easily allowed the signal to be continuously streamed without confusion related to the sequence of letters.

Even today, those in danger can use objects quickly available to them to make flashes of light (using tools like flashlights, mirrors or glass), or when spelled out in the sand, SOS is conveniently readable as an ambigram—readable both right-side-up and upside-down.

Should you find yourself in a predicament, by staying calm and using what is within your ability, know that you can signal your distress using SOS (remember 3 short - 3 long - 3 short) either visually, by sound (banging it out) or with flashes.

Next, 250 Totally Unique Words Most People Have Never Heard of (That Are Tons of Fun to Work Into Random Conversations)