AskDefine | Define flag

Dictionary Definition



1 emblem usually consisting of a rectangular piece of cloth of distinctive design
2 plants with sword-shaped leaves and erect stalks bearing bright-colored flowers composed of three petals and three drooping sepals [syn: iris, fleur-de-lis, sword lily]
3 a rectangular piece of fabric used as a signalling device [syn: signal flag]
4 a listing printed in all issues of a newspaper or magazine (usually on the editorial page) that gives the name of the publication and the names of the editorial staff, etc. [syn: masthead]
5 flagpole used to mark the position of the hole on a golf green [syn: pin]
6 stratified stone that splits into pieces suitable as paving stones [syn: flagstone]
7 a conspicuously marked or shaped tail


1 communicate or signal with a flag
2 provide with a flag; "Flag this file so that I can recognize it immediately"
3 droop, sink, or settle from or as if from pressure or loss of tautness [syn: sag, droop, swag]
4 decorate with flags; "the building was flagged for the holiday"
5 become less intense [syn: ease up, ease off, slacken off] [also: flagging, flagged]

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /flæg/
  • Rhymes with: -æɡ

Etymology 1

Origin unknown.


  1. Of or pertaining to an admiral, commodore, or general officer.
    Captains park in the second row, flag officers next to the building.
of or pertaining to an admiral, commodore of officer
  • Dutch: vlag


  1. A piece of cloth, often decorated with an emblem, used as a visual signal or symbol.
  2. In the context of "nautical": A flag flown by a ship to show the presence on board of the admiral; the admiral himself, or his flagship.
  3. The use of a flag, especially to indicate the start of a race or other event.
  4. In the context of "computer science": A variable or memory location that stores a true-or-false, yes-or-no value, typically either recording the fact that a certain event has occurred or requesting that a certain optional action take place.
  5. In the context of "computer science": In a command line interface, a notation requesting optional behavior or otherwise modifying the action of the command being invoked.
piece of cloth
nautical flag
  • Bosnian: zastava
  • Bulgarian: флаг
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (zi)
  • Croatian: zastava
  • Danish: flag, flagskib
  • Dutch: vlag, vlagschip
  • Finnish: lippu
  • French: pavillon , étendard (on ancient vessels)
  • German: Flagge, Standarte
  • Hungarian: jelzőzászló
  • Portuguese: marcador
  • Russian: вымпел (výmpel) , флаг (flag)
  • Serbian:
    Cyrillic: застава
    Roman: zastava
  • Spanish: bandera
  • Swedish: flagga
  • Ukrainian: флаг
use of a flag
true-or-false variable
  • Bulgarian: флаг
  • Danish: flag
  • Dutch: flag, vlag, booleaanse waarde
  • French: drapeau, sémaphore, flag
  • German: Flag, Bitschalter
  • Hungarian: jelzőbit
  • Japanese: (furagu)
  • Russian: флаг
notation for optional behaviour
  • Bulgarian: опция
  • Dutch: optie, flag, vlag
  • French: option, switch
  • German: Flag, Markierung, Kennzeichen
  • Russian: флаг


  1. To mark with a flag, especially to indicate the importance of
  2. In the context of "often with down": To signal to, especially to stop a passing vehicle etc.
    • Please flag a taxi down for me.
  3. To weaken, become feeble.
    • His strength flagged toward the end of the race.
  4. In the context of "computing": : To signal (an event).
    • The compiler flagged three errors.
  5. In the context of "computing": : To set a program variable to true.
    • Flag the debug option before running the program.''
mark with a flag
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (yòng zi biǎo shì)
  • Danish: signalere
  • Dutch: markeren
  • German: markieren, kennzeichnen
  • Hungarian: jelez
  • Spanish: marcar o señalar con una bandera
  • Swedish: signalera, flagga för
  • Ukrainian: прикрашати прапором, сигналізувати прапором, сиґналізувати прапором
signal to
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: ( hào)
  • Danish: standse, vinke ad
  • Dutch: wenken, aanhouden
  • German: signalisieren
  • Hungarian: leint
  • Spanish: parar
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (shuāituì)
  • Danish: svækkes
  • Dutch: verzwakken
  • French: affaiblir
  • German: erlahmen, ermüden, erschlaffen, nachlassen
  • Hungarian: lankad
  • Portuguese: enfraquecer
  • Spanish: desfallecer flaquear
  • Ukrainian: повиснути, поникнути, слабшати, зменшувати, зменшуватися,
signal in computing
  • Danish: flage
  • Dutch: signaleren, melden
  • German: markierte
  • Italian: flaggare
  • Spanish: señalar
set a programming variable to true
  • Dutch: aanzetten, zetten
  • German: markiere
  • Italian: flaggare

See also

Etymology 2

Of uncertain origin; compare Danish flæg.


  1. Any of various plants with sword-shaped leaves, especially irises; specifically, Iris pseudacorus.
plant with sword-shaped leaves
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (chāng)
  • Danish: sværdlilje
  • Dutch: gele lis
  • German: Schwertlilie
  • Spanish: lirio
  • Ukrainian: ірис, півники, косиця
Derived terms

Etymology 3

Probably of Scandinavian origin; compare Icelandic flag


  1. A slice of turf; a sod.
  2. A slab of stone; a flagstone, a flat piece of stone used for paving.
  • Chinese:
    Mandarin: (shíbǎn)
  • Danish: flise
  • Dutch: tegel
  • German: Fliese
  • Spanish: losa piedra
  • Ukrainian: плита, плитняк, тротуар


  1. To lay down flagstones.
    • Fred is planning to flag his patio this weekend.
lay down flagstones
  • Danish: belægge med fliser
  • Dutch: plaveien, betegelen
  • German: fliesen
  • Spanish: enlosar
  • Ukrainian: мостити, брукувати, вистилати, прокладати,



  1. flag (cloth).
  2. flag (true-false variable)



Loan word from .


  1. In the context of "computing": Flag (computer science meanings).

Extensive Definition

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.


According 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 flags

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:
  • The Tricolour of The Netherlands is the oldest tricolor, first appearing in 1572 as the Prince's Flag in orangewhiteblue. 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.
National flag designs are often used to signify nationality in other forms, such as flag patches.

Civil flags

A 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 flags

Several 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 sea

Flags 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 design

Flags 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:
  1. 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
  2. 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:
  1. 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.

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Dannebrog, Jolly Roger, Old Glory, Star-Spangled Banner, Stars and Stripes, Tarmac, Tarvia, Union Flag, Union Jack, abate, adobe, and blue, ashlar, asphalt, banderole, banner, banneret, bead, beat, beat the drum, bejewel, beribbon, bespangle, bitumen, bituminous macadam, black flag, blacktop, blade, blow, blue ensign, bract, bracteole, bractlet, break, break down, brick, bricks and mortar, bunting, burgee, burn out, carpet, causeway, cave in, cement, check off, clinker, coachwhip, cobble, cobblestone, collapse, color, colors, come apart, come unstuck, concrete, conk out, cotyledon, covering materials, crack up, crumble, curb, curbing, curbstone, dally, dangle, dawdle, debilitate, decline, decrease, degenerate, delay, desiccate, deteriorate, diamond, die, dillydally, diminish, dip, disintegrate, do in, do up, drag, droop, drop, dry up, dwindle, ease up, ebb, edgestone, enervate, engrave, ensign, exchange colors, exhaust, fade, fade away, fag, fag out, fail, faint, fall off, falter, fatigue, feather, ferroconcrete, festoon, figure, filigree, firebrick, fizzle out, flag down, flagging, flagstone, flash, floor, flooring, floral leaf, flounce, flower, foliole, frazzle, frond, garland, gasp, gem, gesture, get tired, give a signal, give out, give the nod, give way, glance, glume, go downhill, go soft, go to pieces, gonfalon, gonfanon, goof off, gravel, grow weary, guidon, hail, hail and speak, half-mast, halt, hang down, harass, hit the skids, hoist a banner, house flag, identify, illuminate, inform, involucre, involucrum, jack, jade, jewel, kerb, kerbstone, kick, knock out, knock up, label, lag, lamina, languish, lath and plaster, leaf, leaflet, leer, lemma, lessen, let up, ligule, linger, loiter, lollygag, long pennant, lose strength, macadam, make a sign, mark, masonry, merchant flag, metal, mortar, motion, national flag, needle, nod, nudge, oriflamme, overfatigue, overstrain, overtire, overweary, paint, pant, pave, pavement, pavestone, paving, paving material, paving stone, peak, pebble, peg out, pendant, pennant, pennon, pennoncel, petal, peter out, pile, pine, pine needle, plasters, play out, plume, poke, poop, poop out, prestressed concrete, prostrate, puff, puff and blow, raise a cry, red, red ensign, ribbon, road metal, roofage, roofing, royal standard, run down, run out, sag, salute, sear, seed leaf, sepal, shilly-shally, shrink, shrivel, siding, sign, signal, signal flag, signalize, sink, slump, sound an alarm, sound the trumpet, spangle, spathe, speak, spear, spire, standard, stipula, stipule, stone, stop, streamer, subside, succumb, swag, swallowtail, tab, tag, taper off, tar, tarmacadam, tarry, tick off, tile, tiling, tinsel, tire, tire out, tire to death, touch, trail, tricolor, tucker, unfurl a flag, use up, vexillum, walling, wane, warn, washboard, waste, waste away, waste time, wave, wave a flag, wave the hand, weaken, wear, wear away, wear down, wear on, wear out, wear thin, weary, wheeze, white, wilt, wind, wink, wither, wither away, wizen, wreathe, yield
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