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Dictionary of Vexillology: F (Flag - Flagship)

Last modified: 2008-01-05 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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1) Generically, any piece of cloth (occasionally paper, plastic or metal) usually with provision for attaching by one edge to a staff or halyard, generally (but not exclusively) intended to fly freely in the wind, and which by displaying the colours and/or the charges upon it, to act as a mark of identity, rallying point or signal.
2) See ‘flag down, to’.

Please note with regard to 1) however, that the above is not meant to be in anyway exclusive, that flags are divided into many different categories by their shape, function and/or design, and that these are accordingly listed separately herein.

A term used when the arms that appear on a flag are officially different from the relevant national or provincial coat of arms or emblem (see also ‘armorial bearings’ and ‘coat of arms’)

flag arms of Peru national arms of Peru flag arms of Saxony Germany provincial arms of Saxony Germany
From left: The Flag Arms and National Arms of Peru; The Flag Arms and Provincial Arms of Saxony, Germany (fotw)

A leather strap worn around the waist and neck, with a supporting leather socket into which the bottom end (or foot) of the staff is fitted, and which assists a marching standard/colour bearer to support its weight – a colour belt or sling (see also ‘colour bearer’, ‘pike’, ‘staff 2)’ and ‘standard bearer’).

A collection of flag images and/or of flag information illustrated with such images, that is published in book form or as a loose-leaf folder (see also ‘flag chart’ and ‘flag plate’).
The wanton destruction of a flag by public burning, usually (but not exclusively) for political motives (but see also ‘rules of preservation and disposal’ in ‘Appendix II’).

See ‘canton flag’.

1) An airline – and in the past also a shipping line – that is considered to represent the nation concerned and whose aircraft will usually carry a representation of the national flag (see also ‘national flag’).
2) An airline or shipping line whose aircraft or ships are registered in a given country and entitled to fly or display its flag.

A charge placed specifically on the field of a flag (see also ‘charge’).

A collection of flag images produced on a single sheet, that is displayed fully opened out and often rolled up or folded for storage (see also ‘flag book’ and ‘flag plate’).
A set of protocols to govern the correct and respectful usage of the national flag. In some countries these are enforceable by law, but in others they remain recommendations only – see Appendix II (also ‘flag etiquette’, ‘flag law’, ‘rules of respect’ and ‘position of honour’).

1) A holiday, commemorative day or other period of time for the affirmation of patriotic values expressed in and through the national flag (see also ‘flag flying days’ and ‘national flag’).
2) In UK usage, the term that describes a charity event during which donations are acknowledged by the receipt of a paper flag (see also ‘flag flying days’ and ‘lapel flag 2)’).

A competition (either official or unofficial) that invites designs from which a new or replacement flag may be selected - usually by a committee appointed for that purpose ( see also ‘ausflag’ and ‘flag proposal’).
In the British Royal Navy and in some others, an (appropriate) metal disc displayed on boats carrying an officer of flag rank to indicate whether that officer expects full ceremonial passing honours, or whether they are proceeding informally and only require normal side party salutes (see also ‘boat flag 3)’, ‘flag officer’ and ‘royal plate’).

flag disc
From left: Alert and Salute only; Courtesy Salute Only, RN (Graham Bartram).

The often legal requirement for shippers to choose the national flag carrier, airline or shipping company over others (particularly but not exclusively foreign lines) when shipping goods or transporting people (see also ‘flag carrier’).

(v) To signal a vehicle to stop or slow down as a warning of danger or obstruction on a road or railway, by waving a (usually) red flag, slowly up and down, or by using only the hand by day or torches by night in similar fashion (see also 'flag').

The international customs applicable to the display of flags when flying together – see ‘Appendix II’ and 'rules of etiquette' (also ‘flag code’, ‘flag law’ and ‘position of honour’).

A term – and a direct translation of the German flaggenwechel – used to describe the point during the fitting out of a vessel when the builder’s house flag is replaced with that of its new owners (see also ‘launching flags’).
A group of flags that share a common heritage or feature, usually shown in either the colours used or the design employed, or in both (see also ‘core flag’, ‘difference’, 'pan-African Colours', 'pan-Arab Colours' and 'pan-Slavic Colours').).

[flags of command]
From left: Arab Revolt Flag 1917 (fotw); The National Flag of Jordan (fotw); The National Flag of the Sudan (fotw); The National Flag of the United Arab Emirates (fotw)

An official list of occasions upon which flags must be flown, generally (but not exclusively) from public buildings (see also ‘flag day’).

Please note that the list of flag flying days usually refers only to the relevant national flag, but that there are several exceptions.

The legal means, by which any constituted authority establishes, regulates, defines or amends a flag (see also ‘Appendix II’, ‘flag code’, ‘flag etiquette’, ‘precedence’, ‘position of honour’, ‘specification sheet’ and ‘type flag/a>’).

In British RN and some other usage, the title carried by the aide to a flag officer (see also ‘flag officer 2)’).

Please note that the title derives from that officer’s former principal responsibilities (now superseded by modern communications methods) for the handling of an admiral’s flag signal traffic.

See ‘flag pole’ (also ‘mast’, ‘pole mast’, 'staff 2)' and ‘stayed mast’).

Please note that the terms flagstaff, flag mast and flag pole may be considered as interchangeable, but that ‘mast‘ and ‘staff’ when used alone have specific meanings.

See ‘indoor flag’.

Please note that this term is a direct translation of the Spanish "Bandera de Ceremonia" and should not be confused with a ceremonial ensign (or flag) as listed separately herein.

1) In naval usage, the rank flag of an officer entitled to fly a flag or broad pennant when that officer is appointed to command naval forces (see also ‘broad pennant’, ‘command pennant’, ‘flag disc’, ‘flag officer’, ‘flagship’, ‘rank plate’ and ‘wear’).
2) An alternative term for a rank flag (see also ‘distinguishing flag 3)’, ‘individual flag’, ‘personal flag 4)’, and ‘rank flag)’.

[flags of command]
From left: Fleet Admiral, USN (fotw); Admiral. USN (fotw); Vice Admiral, USN (fotw); Rear Admiral, USN (fotw); Rear Admiral (lower half) USN (fotw)

Please note, that although these terms are sometimes considered interchangeable, the Editors have drawn a general distinction between the command flags used by senior naval officers, the rank flags employed by officers from the other armed services, the distinguishing flags of civilians and with personal flags. Please note also, that a further distinction has been drawn between the flag of command which replaces the masthead pennant, and command pennants which do not.

The flag flown by a vessel registered in one country, but whose owners are not nationals of that country, and usually for reasons of economy or the evasion of more stringent regulations elsewhere.

A plain red flag widely used in European waters prior to the invention of flag signal codes to signify an intention to give battle – colours of defiance or the bloody flag (see also ‘baucans’).

Please note that although in widespread use prior to this date, the flag of defiance did not appear in English naval Instructions until 1647 (and was dropped in 1799).

1) Flag V (Victor) in the International Code of Signal Flags flown at sea as a request for assistance.
2) Flags N (November) and C (Charlie) hoisted as a group at sea to indicate that a vessel is in distress.
3) In US usage, an orange flag bearing a black square and disk in the centre prescribed by the US Coast Guard for use by small boats and pleasure craft in the territorial and inland waters of the USA.

[flags of distress]
From left: 1) Signal Flag Victor; 2) - 3) November–Charlie; 4) US Signal

Please note that, whilst some may still acknowledge an upside-down ensign as a signal of distress, it is no longer recognized under international rules; and that the waft, also previously used, is now entirely obsolete (see also ‘International Code of Signal Flags’, ‘signal flag’ and ‘waft’).

Also please note that according to the US Coast Guard regulations the orange flag should be either square with vertically arranged symbols as illustrated above, or rectangular with the square and disc horizontal, and that a very similar signal is recommended in the ICS for identification from the air (see also ‘International Code of Signals’).

In now obsolete Austro-Hungarian maritime usage, one of two flags presented to merchant captains for meritorious service in peace (white field) or war (red field), and flown from the mainmast between 1850 and 1918 – an honour flag but see note below (also ‘main’).

[Austro-Hungary flag of honor]
Austro-Hungary 1850 – 1918 (Željko Heimer)

Please note that the term honour flag has been used for two other designs issued by different authorities under differing circumstances, and it is therefore suggested that this form of the term should be applied only to those flags – see ‘honour flag 1)’ and ‘honour flag 2)’.

1) See 'safe conduct flag 1)'.
2) In largely (but not exclusively) UK usage now obsolete, a term sometimes employed to describe the flag of a powerful state that has extended its military and/or naval protection over another.

See ‘St George’s Cross 2)’.

See ‘branch of service flag’ (also ‘armed services flag’ and ‘battle colour’).

One of six different flags introduced by UNESCO in 1995 and designed to be symbolic of the spirit of tolerance.

A plain white flag displayed as a sign of surrender, or as a wish for the temporary cessation of hostilities – a parley flag (see also ‘cartel flag’).

1) A naval officer entitled to fly a flag of command, which replaces the masthead pennant when that officer is aboard ship (see also ‘command pennant’, ‘flag of command’, ‘flagship’ and ‘masthead pennant 1)’).
2) In the British Royal Navy and others, as above but an officer over the rank of commodore (see also ‘broad pennant’ and ‘flag of command’).

A small representation of a flag sewn or otherwise fixed onto an item of clothing, usually but not invariably on the upper sleeve, and often used by military personnel – a shoulder patch.

1) A single illustration or series of illustrations (almost invariably coloured) on a single page (or pages) which is printed separately (for reasons of production cost) and inserted into an otherwise completed book of textual information (see also ‘flag book’ and ‘flag chart’).
2) A term sometimes incorrectly used to describe a piece of tableware, often (but not invariably) produced by shipping companies, that bears the illustration of a flag.

See ‘flag salute’.

The post of wood, metal or a synthetic material upon which a flag is hoisted by means of a halyard, - a flag mast or flag staff, but see ‘outrigger pole’ (also ‘finial’, ‘halyard’, and ‘truck’).

Please note however, that the terms flag staff, flag mast and flagpole may be considered as interchangeable, but that mast and staff when used alone have specific meanings (see also ‘mast’ and ‘staff 2)’).

The term which covers any flag suggested as an alternative to a design currently used, or one of those designs from which the choice of a new flag is to be made, or for a design that has been so proposed in the past but never accepted, (see also ‘ausflag’ and ‘flag design competition’).

flag proposal - Bahamas
Rejected Design for the National Flag of The Bahamas, 1973 (fotw)

See ‘flag etiquette’ (also ‘Appendix II’).

1) An oath of allegiance through a ceremony involving the national flag – flag pledge. Flag salutes are required of military personnel in most countries, but when done by civilians, it is usually (but not invariably) out of custom.
2) A term also sometimes used to indicate a salute made with a flag – as in for example - a merchant vessel dipping its flag to a warship (see also ‘dipping’).
3) See ‘salute to the flag’.

See 'flag belt'.
See ‘flagpole’ (also 'mast' and ‘staff’).

Please note that the terms flagstaff, flag mast and flagpole may be considered as interchangeable, but that mast and staff when used alone have specific meanings (see also 'mast' and ‘staff 2)’).

The country in which a vessel or aircraft is registered, documented or licensed, and whose flag it is entitled to display.

A term used when one or more of the main charges on a flag (usually but not invariably part of a coat of arms or emblem) include the depiction of another flag or flags forming an integral part of the design (see also ‘coat of arms 1)’ and ‘emblem’).

examples of flags on flags (with some arms represented)
From left: National Flag and Arms of Ecuador (fotw); National Flag and Arms of Haiti (fotw); National Flag of South Africa 1928 – 1994 (fotw)

Please note that this category does not include those flags or ensigns whose canton consists of another flag (such as the British or Indian red ensigns) and for which the term canton flags may be used (see ‘canton flag’).

A sport and folk custom, particularly of Italy and Switzerland, in which flags are twirled and tossed in the air – a survival and extension of the standard 17th Century military practice of postures (see also ‘palio’ and ‘postures’).

Please note that an unrelated local ceremony of flourishing flags, called casting the colours, occurs annually in Selkirk, Scotland.

Use of the national flag, literally or figuratively to justify actions or principles, or to excite patriotic fervour.

A recently coined, term which is used to describe the illustration of a flag, or of a flag-like object, which is not intended to represent any flag in actual use, but which has the backing of some credible source and/or which employs a widely recognized emblem as part of its design – but see ‘fictional flag’ and ‘fictitious flag’. For example the official coat of arms of the Mexican province of Hidalgo includes the national flag of Mexico and a flagoid (a non-existent blue rectangular version of the Guadeloupe processional banner known to have been in use c1810).

[flagoid example]
The Arms of Hidalgo (fotw)

1) In US naval usage, a traditional nickname for signalmen whose duties include the display and care of signal flags and ensigns – but see ‘bunting tosser’ (also ‘yeoman of signals’).
2) In British Royal Navy and some other usage, a traditional nickname for the flag lieutenant – see ‘flag lieutenant’.

A naval vessel flying the flag of a flag officer or the broad pennant of a commodore (see also ‘broad pennant’, ‘flag of command’ and ‘flag officer’).

Please note that in British RN and some other usage, a naval vessel in commission which does not carry an officer described above is a ‘private ship’ (see also ‘command pennant’, ‘masthead pennant 1)’ and ‘private ship’).

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