Recently New Zeeland has opted to keep the “Union Jack” in its flag; prompting this article from the BBC. Which by the way misses out some significant flags: the Red and White Ensigns flown by merchant and Royal Navy
respectively both incorporate the Union Jack this omission might be thought ok as they are only used on British Ships but what about Ontario,
or the other provinces… in fact arguably only 3 of the provinces or territories are free from British imperial influence in their flags. But surely, if they include American States they should include Canadian Provinces?
What about Singapore but as this shows Great Brittan has a habit of leaving their flag around the place. But this is getting beside the point. With that in mind let’s look at some of the uses of the word Flag in English.
“to flag something”: this is often used in meetings and other discussions to either draw attention to something important or to note that something requires attention at a later date. This might also be “to flag something up”. Microsoft Outlook uses ‘flags’ to tag items in the inbox that you want to follow up. Example: “Before we finish I’d like to flag the date of the next meeting with you”
“to raise a red flag”: is a metaphor meaning something gives you a warning, or justifiably makes you wary or nervous. Example: “I’m not sure I trust him, something about this just raises a red flag for me.” Interestingly the Red flag is also a socialist anthem “keep the red flag flying”.
“to raise the white flag”: is traditionally a sign of surrender or wish to parlay in war/conflict but can also be a metaphor for giving up. Example: “I’d rather we go away as a family for the holiday but I raised the white flag when Toby threatened to stay home by himself.”
“black flag” traditionally the mark of pirates at sea but also a noted punk band.
“to fly a flag at half-mast”: is a sign of mourning for the death of a significant and public person, this metaphor has gotten stretched and can include use indicating someone seems sad or distracted. Example: “What’s wrong with Claire? She’s been walking around at half-mast all morning.”
“to run something up the flagpole and see who salutes”: a metaphor for mentioning an idea or plan publicly to see who and or how many people respond well (or negatively) to it. Example: “I wasn’t convinced about the new models but we ran it up the flagpole for some key customers and the response was very good.”
“A chequered flag”: of black and white squares is traditionally used in racing for the finish of the race. As a metaphor someone waving the chequered flag indicates the end of something. Example: “I didn’t miss the whole thing I got there in time to see the chequered flag”.
“to wave the flag for something” and/or “to be a flag bearer for something”. These metaphors indicate strong (and genuine) public support for something. Example: “Simon will always wave the flag for change, even if he doesn’t understand the underlying issues”.
“a flag of convenience” literally this is when a ship is registered somewhere or flying a flag of somewhere that it has no real connexion to. Metaphorically someone may fly a flag of convenience to display loyalty they don’t actually have. Example: “Kevin’s only flying a flag of convenience here; he doesn’t really believe in our cause and will desert us at the first opportunity.”
“a flag of courtesy” when in another nations waters ships fly flags of courtesy to show they are aware of their position and willing to abide by that nations laws and regulations.