Pardon me, was I speaking French?

Chaise lounge

That comfortable chair you sit in by the pool or in the backyard is actually a misnomer. The French call it a "chaise longue," meaning literally "long chair," which is the original term. But when the word was exported to English-speaking countries, people there changed the "longue" to "lounge." Probably because the chair was so pleasant to sit in!

Linguists believe that the name for this long chair will remain "lounge chair" among Anglophones, thereby affirming its purpose for lounging - even though the origin of the chair's comfort is its length.

Mayday! Mayday!

This international distress call over an aircraft's or ship's radio may cause one to wonder why a month in spring is mentioned at a time of crisis. But "Mayday" has nothing to do with the first day in May, or any day in May for that matter. Its origin comes from the French phrase "venez m'aider" (VEN-nay MAY-day) for "come help me." The Anglicized spelling, which dates from 1927, is an attempt to imitate an already established foreign version. Fortunately, desperate callers remembered enough of the phrase - "m'aider" - at the critical time.

Mayday's cousin, SOS, the radiotelegraphic distress call, is frequently mistaken for an acronym. Actually, the radio signal does not stand for "Save Our Ship" or even "Save Our Souls." Those three letters were adopted in 1908 because they were easy for wireless operators to recall and transmit via telegraph. As many people know. SOS in Morse code is: dot-dot-dot, dash-dash-dash, dot-dot-dot.

SOURCES: 'Word Mysteries and Histories,' by the editors of The American Heritage Dictionaries; The World Book Dictionary; Webster's Dictionary; 'The Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins,' by Robert Hendrickson; 'The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins,' by William and Mary Morris; 'The Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology,' by Robert K. Barnhart.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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