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A flag is a piece of cloth attached to a pole or mast. Flags were initially created for signalling (as in semaphore), and for the identification of those who displayed them, and are still used for that purpose today; flags used in this latter sense are often called standards. However, flags are also important symbols in their own right. Every country in the world today, and many groups and organizations, have their own flag to symbolize their purpose or aims. Flags are also used in messaging or advertising.

A flag flown at sea is typically known as an ensign. A courteous, peaceable merchant ship or yacht customarily flies its ensign under the flag of whatever nation it is currently visiting. To fly one's ensign alone in foreign water, 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. This custom is still (2003) taken quite seriously by many naval and port personnel. Misflying an ensign can bring an armed boarding by a naval warship or port authority in many parts of the world.

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 smuggling in many jurisdictions!

The study of flags is known as vexillology.

Table of contents
1 Flag Design
2 National flags
3 The Use of Flags in Sports
4 History of Flags
5 Alternate meanings for "flag"
6 Related topics
7 Bibliography
8 External Links

Flag Design

Flags are usually rectangular in shape, but may be of any shape or size that is practical for flying. Common designs on flags include crosses, stripes, and divisions of the surface, or field, into bands or quarters. Writing is common on some flags - for example, state flags of the United States, or revolutionary flags of the Soviet Union - however, the practice is generally deprecated, because the writing is hard to read on the reverse of the flag, and sewing the same design on both sides often makes the flag too heavy to fly properly.

Flags are often designed according to the same principles as the designs of heraldry. A heraldic coat of arms may also be flown as a banner of arms. An example is the U.S. state of Maryland, or the Republic of Kiribati.

A person who designs flags is known as a vexillographer.

National flags

Main article: National flag

One 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:

Flags of Non-national entities

Flags may also be adopted by:

In short, any entity seeking to establish an identity may do so by the use of a flag.

The Use of Flags in Sports

Because of their ease of signalling and identification, flags are often used in sports.

History of Flags

The first flag-like implement to be used by humans was the vexilloid, an
emblem or small sculpture on a pole, by the Egyptians, probably prior to 1000 B.C.E. They were also developed independently by Assyrians in about 750 B.C.E., and by the Celts of Western Europe. They could be made out of wood or metal, and were sometimes adorned with ribbons or bits of fabric as decoration.

Over time, people made the realization that the adornments were the more visible elements of a vexilloid. This was hastened by the development of sea travel, which called for a means of unambiguous identification over a great distance. Simple, brightly-colored designs which moved with the wind caught the eye best. Today, flags continue to be used to signal between ships or from ship to harbor. An example is an entirely yellow flag, which means that the ship's crew is quarantined for an infectious disease.

The full development of heraldry in about 1200 C.E. also brought sophistication to the development and design of flags. The oldest national flag continually in use is the aforementioned Dannebrog, which dates legendarily from 1219.

Alternate meanings for "flag"

Related topics


External Links