may-day • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun phrase
Meaning: 1. The first day of May, a traditional European holiday celebrating the onset of spring. 2. International Labor Day in European and many other countries. 3. The international distress signal for aircraft and other vessels.
Notes: May Day is the ancient celebration of spring, whose origins are lost in the annals of time. By the Middle Ages it was a festival to bring fertility to the fields. The May Queen is a holdover from the selection of a virgin to be transported over the fields as part of that ritual in Europe. Prior to that, young girls would roam the fields in hopes of transferring their fertility to the crops.
In Play: In 1889 the European Socialist labor union known as the Second International declared May 1 as International Labor Day. It is still officially celebrated on May 1 in most Western industrialized nations today. May 1 did not become Labor Day in the United States because the labor movement here had already established such a day in 1882 for the first Monday of September. Congress made this day a national holiday in 1894.
Word History: The first of today's two Good Words is May, the name of the month. It comes from the name of the Roman goddess of spring, Maia. Simple enough: May Day celebrates the return of spring. Day comes from the same original root as dawn and daisy. The latter originated as Old English dæges eage "day's eye ". The possessive form of dæg "day", dæges, survived, ultimately becoming daisy. That leaves the May Day (or mayday) that is the distress signal for aircraft and ships. This May Day has nothing to do with the other; it is an adaptation of the French expression (venez) m'aider "(come) help me!" May this May Day bring you only flowers and no distress at all.
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