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What is Vexillology?

Vexillology, the study of flags, was first coined during the 1950s.
A vexilologist may study how a nation's flag usually changes when its governing political regime is overthrown, as was the case when communist forces gained power in China.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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Vexillology is the study of flags. This discipline is usually considered to be a branch of heraldry, although vexillology can also involve history and psychology, among other disciplines. Someone who studies flags is known as a vexillologist, while someone who designs flags is a vexillographer. Vexillographers are often members of heraldic organizations, using their heraldic knowledge to create meaningful flag designs.

This tongue-twisting term was coined in the 1950s by a vexillologist who apparently chafed without a specific term for his field of study. It is derived from the Latin word vexillum. A vexillum is actually a specific type of flag, and unlike modern flags, it is designed to be hung on the vertical and carried with a spear, rather than being hung from a pole. The term vexillum was also used in Roman times to describe a group of men gathered under a flag.

A big part of vexillology is the study of historical flags, and the analysis of the symbols and colors used in flags. Many flags bear a remarkable number of similarities, as in the case of the flags of the Scandinavian nations which bear version of the Nordic Cross in different colors. Red, white, and blue appear in the flags of many former English colonies, while flags of Muslim nations often integrate green, a color commonly associated with Islam.

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People in the field of vexillology study the ways in which flags are used by civilians, governments, and military organizations both on land and at sea. Flags can be used to convey messages, as in the case of semaphore flags on ships, and they can also be potent symbols of national pride. Some vexillologists are interested in the psychological relationship between people and their flags, looking at how people respond to images of their flag and the careful rules surrounding flag handling which are used in many nations.

Vexillology may be a bit obscure, but it is important. A poorly-designed flag can send mixed messages or embarrass the person, organization, or country which it is supposed to represent, while a well-designed flag crisply conveys a message and sticks in the memory. Many people, for example, are familiar with the design of the Chinese flag, with simple gold stars against a red background, while the somewhat cluttered flag of St. Pierre and Miquelon leaves a bit to be desired, even if it is ripe with symbolic meaning.

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Discuss this Article

anon328194
Post 2

I have a neighbor who had the US flag posted on the right side of their porch and a British flag on the left. Some people complained, but I have no problem with it, as it is simply that person's right and freedom of speech for their home.

The wind blew the U.S. flag down. I picked it up and wrapped it neatly with a note, (the pole was not holding it so I did not place it back in the pole stand).

Now the only flag outside of their home is the British flag. I still do not have a problem with this because we are not at war with Britan. Is there anything that would disagree with this situation, or is it ok?

anon81502
Post 1

Regrettably, many well-intentioned people try to ascribe their own personal and subjective interpretations to flags, particularly their own national flag.

This is like trying to invent a new meaning for, say, a gold ring on the third finger of the left hand or a black band worn on the left sleeve.

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