The Language of Flags: Glossary

by Compiled by David G. Sansing / August 2000
Theme and Time Period

A synonym for flag.

An edging around the field of a flag that is a different color from the field.

A woolen cloth used in making flags.

The upper corner, or quarter, of a flag next to the flag staff.

Color guard
Soldiers who are assigned to protect the color bearer and defend their colors.

Color bearer
A soldier who carries a flag; during the American Civil War regimental color bearers were selected for their courage and calmness under fire because the colors were the focal point for tactical alignment and realignment during a battle; amidst the disarray and disorientation after each charge or assault, soldiers would rally to their regimental colors and await further orders; troops often fired at a color bearer in an attempt to bring down the colors and thereby create confusion among the enemy; the colors of an opponent was a great prize of war, and soldiers often put themselves at great risk to capture or to defend their flags.

A flag; it can be a battle flag or a national flag.

The overall design and shape of a flag, i.e., rectangular, square, triangular, or pennant.

A popular symbol used in flags throughout the western world; there are three basic shapes: the two arms of the St. George's Cross (figure 1), named for the patron saint of England, are perpendicular and horizontal and divide the field of a flag in four equal quadrants; General Leonidas K. Polk's battle flag employed the St. George's Cross, which is also called a Greek Cross; the St. Andrew's Cross (figure 2), named for the patron saint of Scotland, is a white diagonal cross; the Beauregard battle flag employs a blue diagonal cross, which is also called a saltier; the Latin Cross (figure 3), the Christian Cross or crucifix, was not widely used in Civil War flags; in the canton of the 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment's first flag the thirteen stars were arranged in the form of a Latin Cross; the battle flag of a Missouri division of Confederate soldiers used a white Latin Cross on a field of blue bordered in red.

The political control or possession of an area, region, territory, colony, settlement, or state by a sovereign power or nation; dominion over an area allows the holder of that dominion to fly its colors over the region.

Stars, crescents, coats of arms, or other markings or designs placed upon the field or in the canton of a flag.

To decorate or adorn a flag with stars or other embellishments.

A synonym for flag.

A synonym for flag.

The basic or background color of a flag or canton before any embellishments are added; also called the ground.

A narrow band of color, usually white, that separates colors; also separates symbols or embellishments from the canton or field of a flag.

Flag staff
A flag mast or pole.

The horizontal length of a flag; the length of a flag from the hoist end to the fly end.

Fly end
The end of a flag farthest from the flag staff.

A decorative border of threads, cords, or strips around a flag.

The basic or background color of a flag, or canton, before the addition of any embellishments.

The rope or cord by which a flag is raised on a flag staff.

The vertical width of a flag; the width of a flag from the top to the bottom.

Hoist a flag
To raise a flag.

Hoist end
The end of a flag next to the flag staff.

An image, picture, or object that represents or stands for a belief in and devotion to an idea, theory, or concept.

Naval jack
A small flag flown on the bow of a vessel to indicate nationality.

A long triangular-shaped flag used on vessels for identification or communication.

Saltier or saltire
A diagonal, or X-shaped, cross; often called a St. Andrew's Cross

An independent state or nation over which no other nation has dominion or power.

A synonym for flag.

A popular symbol used in flags throughout the world; the first official American flag and the first flag of the Confederacy included stars in the canton; stars on flags are usually pentagrams, or five-pointed stars.

The upper corner, or quarter, of a flag next to the flag staff; the term is derived from the use of the British Union Flag in the canton of various British flags.

  • Parts of a flag
    Parts of a flag.
  • St. George’s Cross
    (figure 1) St. George’s Cross
  • St. Andrew’s Cross
    (figure 2) St. Andrew’s Cross
  • Latin Cross
    (figure 3) Latin Cross