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16 Useful Flag Terms: How Many Do You Know?

16 Useful Flag Terms: How Many Do You Know?

Posted by Hayley Adams on Apr 7th 2021

Fun Fact, there is actually an entire field dedicated to the study of flags: vexillology. A man named Whitney Smith coined the term in the ’90s. It simply means the study flags, their history, meanings, and symbolism. Within this field, you’ll find a set of very specific terms used to describe a flag’s properties. While many of these terms are straightforward and common, others you might find are a little more unfamiliar.

Whether you’d like to know how to better describe your flag or just want to expand your vocabulary with a handful of new words, here are some flag terms you should know when talking about flags and flagpoles.


Canton: The canton is the blue square or rectangular area on the flag, and is located in the top inner corner of the flag (the hoist side); The American Flag features a canton of 50 stars.

Casket flag: A 5 foot x 9.5 foot United States flag used in military funeral services. The flag is typically laid across the coffin of the fallen soldier during the ceremony, then given to the family as a token of respect.

Color: In military service, a flag carried by fellow soldiers is called a “color.” The expression “the colors” is generally referring to the flag.

Dip: This is when a flag is lowered during a salute. The American Flag is never dipped, but other governmental bodies' flags will be dipped while the American Flag stays upright.

Field: The backdrop color to a flag.

Fimbriation: a narrow border used as a division between two other colors; white and gold are the most commonly chosen colors for this application

Finial: a crowning, decorative ornament placed atop a flagpole.

Fly: The side of the flag that is free flying, usually when the wind picks up.

Half-mast: This is a nautical term that indicates the position of a flag as approximately halfway up a ship’s mast. It can also be known as Half-staff. Check out more information on dates you should fly your flag as half-staff here!

Halyard: The rope that is used to hoist the flag on a flagpole.

Heading: The material used to secure the flag to the flagpole halyard line. It is usually heavy and made of some form of durable cotton or synthetic material. It is important so flags do not rip away during heavy winds or rains.

Hoist: Hoist can mean multiple things when it comes to the flag, depending on how you’re using it. If used as a verb, hoisting the flag means to raise or lower it on a pole. If used as an identifier, the hoist is the vertical height of the flag and the side of the flag that is used to attach it to the pole.

Lower: The act of taking the flag down from the pole.

Peak: The highest point at which a flag can be raised.

Staff: The flagpole itself. On a ship, it may be referred to as a mast.

Storm flag: The smallest American Flag that should be flown only at Army posts during stormy weather, measuring 5 feet by 9.5 feet.