Thursday, May 31, 2012

Save Our Signal

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about English words that migrated over to Hebrew and - in the process - acquired a new meaning or connotation. (In case you missed it, here’s the original post. Be sure to check out the comment section there for more great examples.)

Since then, I thought of yet another example, which, IMNSHO, really deserves its own post.

{cue: overly-solemn voice and excessively-earnest gaze}

This, ladies and gentlemen, is that post…


What’s unique about this particular instance of what I like to refer to as an “evolved word” is that I can’t figure out how the English evolved into the Hebrew.

Here’s how the expression is typically used:

Imagine that you’re a freelancer, living and working in Israel, and – as always - your client is in a big rush.

So s/he might say something along the following lines:

“האם יש סיכוי שתגמרי את העבודה עד מחר? אנחנו צריכים את זה ממש SOS!”

Translation: “Is there a chance that you’ll finish the work by tomorrow? We need it absolutely SOS!”


“מאוד אשמח אם תוכלי לעשות את זה SOS. זה מאוד דחוף!”

Translation: “I’d really appreciate it if you could do this SOS. It’s extremely urgent!”

So, there you have it.

Somewhere and somehow, someone out there decided to blithely ignore international maritime conventions and deliberately replaced “ASAP” with “SOS.”

And strangely enough, the replacement stuck.

So the next time you happen to be flying over a small tropical island in your propeller plane and you look down below and notice that someone used large branches or boulders to spell out the letters “S.O.S” on the beach, don’t assume that the person was shipwrecked and needs rescuing.

Instead, it’s very possible that he or she is a Hebrew speaker who simply needs a certain work assignment completed by tomorrow…


Have you ever heard “SOS” used in this way? Or is just me… :-)


  1. Wow, I confess I've heard it so many times, I never stopped to think about the absurdity of it being used that way.

  2. Malke - It's one of the top ten signs your klitah is just about complete: these types of words no longer sound strange to you... :-)

  3. Me too - that one totally went over my head. Yay, I'm Israeli!
    By the way, I thought it was "save our ship," no?

  4. Toby - Yeah, "save our signal" was just a lame attempt at humor. (I was trying to show that Israelis misappropriated the international maritime distress signal...) But in any event, according to Wikipedia (so it has to be true... ;-) ), SOS isn't an acronym at all. Rather, "Save Our Ship" is used as a mnemonic to remember the signal (dot-dot-dot dash-dash-dash dot-dot-dot).


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