â€œSend SOS,â€ one of the Titanicâ€™s radio operators supposedly said to another after the famous ship struck that infamous iceberg. â€œItâ€™s the new call and besides this may be your last chance to send it.â€
That â€œnew callâ€ is 100 years old today, and people around the world who owe their lives to that piece of Morse code may reflect this morning on its importance.
In the past century, â€œSOSâ€ has become a firm part of popular culture used in everything from DIY programme titles to Abba hits. But it began life in a far more serious setting after being adopted by the international community on July 1, 1908, as the globally recognised distress signal for ships at sea.
At that time voices could not yet be carried across the airwaves and sailors needed a standard means of saying, in Morse code, that they were in trouble.
Until then, the most commonly used distress call was the â€œCQDâ€ signal, which was open to misinterpretation. After much deliberation, SOS was chosen to replace it because the signal â€“ three dots, three dashes and three more dots â€“ is such a clear message to send in Morse code.