Glossary of terms

Glossary of vexillology terms - 'flag speak'

Flag terminology is the system of terms used in vexillology - the study of flags.  This terminology describes precisely the patterns, parts and any other attributes of flags and the way they are displayed.
 

Standard flag sections and terms

Parts of a flag

Badge A coat of arms or simple (heraldic) symbol
Canton Any quarter section of a flag. Commonly means the upper left quarter, for example the stars in the USA flag and the Union in the Australian and New Zealand flags.
Charge A symbol or figure appearing in the field of the flag
Emblem A device often used as a charge on a flag which may be heraldic in origin, or modern. For example the maple leaf on the flag of Canada.
Field The background of a flag. The colour behind the charges.
Fimbriation This is a narrow edging or border (often gold or white) on a flag to separate to other colours. For example the white and gold lines of the flag of South Africa.
Fly The half or the edge of a flag the furthest away from the flagpole. This can also refer to the horizontal length of the flag.
Hoist The half or edge of the flag nearest to the flagpole. This can also refer to the vertical width of the flag. 
Length This is the span of a flag along the side at right angles to the flagpole.
Width This is the span of a flag along the side parallel to the flagpole.

Basic flag patterns

Flags often inherit design traits as seen in traditional European heraldic designs and as a result patterns often share names.

Name

Illustration

Example

Border (bordure)

Border, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Sri Lanka, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Sri Lanka

Canton

Canton, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Malaysia, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Malaysia

Quadrisection

Quadrisection, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Panama, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Panama

Greek Cross

(couped cross)

Greek cross, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Switzerland, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Switzerland

Symmetric cross

Symmetric, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Georgia, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Georgia

Nordic cross

Nordic cross, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Denmark, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Denmark 

Pale

Pale, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Canada, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Canada

Fess

Fess, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Austria, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Austria

Bend

Bend, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Tanzania, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Tanzania

Chevron

Chevron, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

Philippines, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Philippines

Pall

Pall, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

 

South Africa, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

South Africa

Saltaire

Saltaire, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Scotland, glossary of terms, vexillology, flag speak, red dragon flagmakers

Scotland

Types of flag

Banderole or bannerol A small flag or streamer carried on the lance of a knight; or a long narrow flag flying from the mast-head of a ship.
Banner Generically, a synonym for a flag of any kind. In heraldry, a flag whose design is the same as the shield in a coat of arms,but usually in a square or rectangular shape; also known as a banner of arms.
Burgee A distinguishing flag of a recreational boating organisation.
Civil ensign A merchant flag or merchant ensign. A version of the national flag flown by civil ships to denote nationality.
Civil flag A version of the national flag flown by civilians on non-government installations or craft.
Colour The flag of a military unit.
Courtesy flag or courtesy ensign A flag flown by a visiting ship in foreign waters as a token of respect. A version of the national flag flown by civil ships to denote nationality.
Ensign The flag of a ship or military unit. May also be used generically as a synonym for a flag of any kind.
Fanion A small flag used by the French military.
Gonfalon, gonfanon or gonfalone A type of heraldic flag suspended from a crossbar.
Guidon A small flag borne by a military unit. In Scots herladry this is a smaller version of the Standard.
Pennon or pennant A flag larger at the hoist than at the fly.
Pipe banner A decorative flag for the Scottish Highland bagpipes.
Prayer flag A type of flag found strung along mountain ridges and peaks in the Himalayas, used to bless the surrounding countryside.
Rank flag or distinguishing flag The flag flown by a superior naval officer on his flagship or headquarters.
Signal flag A flag or pennant used to send signals.
Standard In heraldry, a long tapering flag bearing heraldic badges and the owner's motto. The term may also refer to a military colour carried by cavalry units; or to a royal standard, a flag used by a monarch or members of a royal family.
State flag or government flag A variant of a national flag designated or restricted to use by a country's government or its agencies.
Vexilloid A flag-like object, used in a similar symbolic manner to a flag, but that differs from a conventional flag in some way.
Vexillum A flag-like object, suspended from a horizontal crossbar, used as a military standard in the Ancient Roman army.
War flag, military flag or battle flag A variant of a national flag for use by a country's military forces when on land.
Windsock A conical textile tube used to indicate the direction and strength of the wind.


Distress

Flying the flag upside-down, or tying it into a wheft.

Half mast

A style of flag display where the flag is flown at least the width of the flag between the top of the flag and the top of the pole.

Hoist

The act or function of raising a flag, as on a rope.

Lower

The act or function of taking down a flag, as on a rope. 

Flag illustrations

Flag illustrations generally depict flags flying from the observer's point of view from left to right, the view known as the obverse (front); the other side is the reverse (back). There are some exceptions, notably some Islamic flags inscribed in Arabic, for which the obverse is defined as the side with the hoist to the observer's right.

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