1 surveying instrument consisting of a straight rod painted in bands of alternate red and white each one foot wide; used for sightings by surveyors [syn: range pole, ranging pole]
2 a tall staff or pole on which a flag is raised [syn: flagstaff]
a tall pole up which one or more flags may be raised and flown
A flag is a piece of cloth, often flown from a pole or mast, generally used symbolically for signaling or identification. The term flag is also used to refer to the graphic design employed by a flag, or to its depiction in another medium.
The first flags were used to assist military coordination on battlefields and flags have evolved into a general tool for rudimentary signaling and identification, This was especially used in environments where communication is similarly challenging (such as the maritime environment where semaphore is used). National flags are potent patriotic symbols with varied wide-ranging interpretations, often including strong military associations due to their original and ongoing military uses. Flags are used in messaging, advertising, or for other decorative purposes. The study of flags is known as vexillology, from the Latin vexillum meaning flag or banner.
HistoryAccording to the Encyclopedia Britannica: "Flags recognizable as such were the invention, almost certainly, of the ancient Indians or the Chinese." The usage of flags spread from India and China to neighboring Burma, Siam, and southeastern Asia. these flags eventually evolved into the national flags and maritime flags of today. Flags also became the preferred means of communications at sea, resulting in various systems of flag signals; see International maritime signal flags.
As European knights were replaced by centralized armies, flags became the means to identify not just nationalities but also individual military units. Flags became objects to be captured or defended. Eventually these flags posed too much danger to those carrying them, and by World War I these were withdrawn from the battlefields, and have since been used only at ceremonial occasions.
National flagsOne of the most popular uses of a flag is to symbolize a nation or country. Some national flags have been particularly inspirational to other nations, countries, or subnational entities in the design of their own flags. Some prominent examples include:
- The Union Flag (Union Jack) of the United Kingdom is the most commonly used. British colonies typically flew a flag based on one of the ensigns based on this flag, and many former colonies have retained the design to acknowledge their cultural history. Examples: Australia, Fiji, New Zealand, Tuvalu, and also the Canadian provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and British Columbia, and the American state of Hawaii; see commons:Flags based on British ensigns.
- The Tricolour of The Netherlands is the oldest tricolor, first appearing in 1572 as the Prince's Flag in orange–white–blue. Soon the more famous red–white–blue began appearing — it is however unknown why, though many stories are known. After 1630 the red–white–blue was the most commonly seen flag. The Dutch Tricolor has inspired many flags but most notably those of Russia, India and France, which spread the tricolor concept even further. The Flag of the Netherlands is also the only flag in the world that is adapted for some uses, when the occasion has a connection to the royal house of the Netherlands an orange ribbon is added.
- The flag of the United States, also nicknamed The Stars and Stripes or Old Glory. In the same way that nations looked to France for inspiration, many countries were also inspired by the American Revolution, which they felt was symbolized in this flag. Examples: Cuba, Liberia, Chile, Uruguay, and the French region of Brittany.
- The original tricolor Flag of Iran, the source for the Pan-Iranian colors Green, White and Red adopted by many Indo-Iranian or Aryan states and peoples as their symbols. Examples: Tajikistan, Kurdistan, Republic of Ararat, Talysh-Mughan. Also Bulgarians who claim to be descendants of ancient Iranian people known as Thracians and Scythians adopted Pan-Iranian colors see Bulgaria. Some of Iran's non-Iranian neighboring countries also adopted these colors see Kuwait and Oman.
- The flag of Turkey, which was the flag of the Ottoman Empire, has been an inspiration for the flag designs of many other Muslim nations. During the time of the Ottomans the crescent began to be associated with Islam and this is reflected on the flags of Algeria, Azerbaijan, Comoros, Malaysia, Mauritania, Pakistan and of Tunisia.
- The flag of Venezuela, created by Francisco de Miranda to represent the independence movement in Venezuela that later gave birth to the "Gran Colombia", inspired the individual flags of Colombia and Ecuador, both sharing three bands of color and three of them (Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela) sharing the yellow, blue and red.
National flag designs are often used to signify nationality in other forms, such as flag patches.
Civil flagsA civil flag is a version of the national flag that is flown by civilians on non-government installations or craft. The use of civil flags was more common in the past, in order to denote buildings or ships that were not manned by the military. In some countries the civil flag is the same as the war flag or state flag, but without the coat of arms, such as in the case of Spain, and in others it is an alteration of the war flag.
War flagsSeveral countries (including the United Kingdom and the former Nazi Germany) have unique flags flown by their armed forces, rather than the national flag.
Other countries' armed forces (such as those of the United States or Switzerland) use their standard national flag. The Philippines' armed forces may use their standard national flag, but during times of war the flag is turned upside down - the only known case where an upside down national flag signifies a state of war (and not merely distress.) These are also considered war flags, though the terminology only applies to the flag's military usage.
Large versions of the war flag flown on the warships of countries' navies are known as battle ensigns. In war waving a white flag indicates surrender.
Flags at seaFlags are particularly important at sea, where they can mean the difference between life and death, and consequently where the rules and regulations for the flying of flags are strictly enforced. A national flag flown at sea is known as an ensign. A courteous, peaceable merchant ship or yacht customarily flies its ensign (in the usual ensign position), together with the flag of whatever nation it is currently visiting at the mast (known as a courtesy flag). To fly one's ensign alone in foreign waters, a foreign port or in the face of a foreign warship traditionally indicates a willingness to fight, with cannon, for the right to do so. As of 2006, this custom is still taken seriously by many naval and port authorities and is readily enforced in many parts of the world by boarding, confiscation and other civil penalties.
In some countries yacht ensigns are different from merchant ensigns in order to signal that the yacht is not carrying cargo that requires a customs declaration. Carrying commercial cargo on a boat with a yacht ensign is deemed to be smuggling in many jurisdictions.
There is a system of international maritime signal flags for numerals and letters of the alphabet. Each flag or pennant has a specific meaning when flown individually.
As well, semaphore flags can be used to communicate on an ad hoc basis from ship to ship over short distances.
Shape and designFlags are usually rectangular in shape (often in the ratio 2:3 or 3:5), but may be of any shape or size that is practical for flying, including square, triangular, or swallow tailed. A more unusual flag shape is that of the flag of Nepal, which is in the shape of two stacked triangles.
Many flags are dyed through and through to be inexpensive to manufacture, such that the reverse side is the mirror image of the obverse (front) side. This presents two possibilities:
- If the design is symmetrical in an axis parallel to the flag pole, obverse and reverse will be identical despite the mirror-reversal e.g. flag of India
- If not, the obverse and reverse will present two variants of the same design, one with the hoist on the left, the other with the hoist on the right. This is very common and usually not disturbing if there is no text in the design.
Some complex flag designs are not intended for through and through implementation, requiring separate obverse and reverse sides if made correctly. In these cases there is a design element (usually text) which is not symmetric and should be read in the same direction, regardless of whether the hoist is to the viewer's left or right. These cases can be divided into two types:
- The same (asymmetric) design may be duplicated on both sides. Such flags can be manufactured by creating two identical through and through flags and then sewing them back to back, though this can affect the resulting combination's responsiveness to the wind. Depictions of such flags may be marked with the symbol The largest flag, as adjudicated by Guinness World Records, is an 18,847-square-meter flag of Israel made by Filipina Grace Galindez-Gupana and unfurled at Masada Airfield in November 2007. This flag plus 3 other gigantic national flags and 180 smaller flags of other countries were later sewn together by Gupana's multinational team to form the world's largest banner, covering an area of 54,451 square meters.
Other large flags, in excess of that have been constructed, appear in the following list.