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Dictionary of Vexillology: S (Sable - Sleeve)

Last modified: 2006-09-30 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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The heraldic term for the colour black (see ‘Appendix III’ and ‘rule of tincture’).

1) A special flag of internationally recognized design – such as that of the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Crystal and others – which (by international agreement) protects personnel engaged in medical succour, ambulances, civil and field hospitals and hospital ships against military action – a Geneva Convention flag (see also ‘international flag’ and ‘supra-national flag’).
2) The Red Cross, Red Crescent, Red Crystal and other recognized flag designs (together with arm brassards or painted symbols) are also used to indicate the facilities and personnel of these organisations rendering aid to the survivors and casualties of natural or human disasters (see also ‘international flag’ and ‘supra-national flag’).

IRCRC flags
Red Cross Flag Red Crescent Flag Red Crystal Flag (fotw)

Please note that on 8 December 2005 the International Committee of the Red Cross adopted a Protocol (Protocol III) authorizing a red crystal (diamond shape) as an additional non-religious and politically neutral symbol, however, please also note that the flags of the Red Cross and of its associated organizations are at the same time international flags, safe conduct and Geneva Convention flags.

1) See ‘saltire’.
2) A white saltire on a blue field – the national flag of Scotland.
3) A blue saltire on a white field – the naval ensign of the Russian Federation (and formerly of the Russian Empire).

Please note that whilst the term St George's Cross generally refers only to a red cross on a white field, the Cross of St Andrew, due to a tradition that the saint was crucified on a diagonal cross, has come to be regarded by many as a saltire of any colour or metal on a field of any colour or metal. Although this is considered inaccurate in English heraldic or vexillological usage, it is common in countries and languages where a term equivalent to “saltire” does not exist.

1) See ‘cross 1)’.
2) The Cross (as above) of St George - the national flag of England (and the flag of the ancient Republic of Genoa).
3) Any red cross on a white field.

Please note however, that such a cross with arms of equal length is also a Greek cross (see also 'Greek cross').

A red saltire on a white field (see also 'saltire' and 'St Andrew's Cross').

Please note that this saltire has no known links to the saint, but when adopted for the British Union Flag was a symbol of the knightly Order of St Patrick (see also ‘union jack’).

A cross whose arms are of equal width, which intersect in the centre of the flag, and which generally run from the upper hoist corner to the lower fly corner, and from the lower hoist corner to the upper fly corner of a flag, canton or panel (see also ‘canton’, ‘panel’, 'per saltire' and ‘St Andrew’s Cross’).

[Jamaica - saltire]
National Flag of Jamaica (fotw)

That custom, often prescribed by law or regulation, which requires military personnel to salute and civilians to remove their hats or place the right hand over their heart when a flag is raised or lowered, or when it passes in parade (see also ‘flag salute’).

1) A band of material, usually in the national colours and sometimes bearing the national arms, worn across the chest by a head of state, especially in South America, or by civic officials.
2) A similar symbol used by political organizations.

[Presidential sash of Honduras] The Presidential Sash of Honduras (Eugene Ipavec)

See ‘serrated’ (also ‘wolfteeth’).

(adj) Where the edges of a flag are cut into repeated semi-circular shapes.

Please note however, that a division line within a flag or shield is not scalloped, but is more correctly described as either engrailed or invected (see ‘engrailed’ and 'invected').

A cross with arms of equal width, whose horizontal arm runs along the centre of the flag, but whose vertical arm is off-centred towards the hoist – a Nordic Cross.

[Norway - Scandinavian cross]
National Flag of Norway (CS)

A small ecclesiastical banner fixed to the top of a bishop’s crosier (see also ‘banderole’).

See 'tugh

1) A form of flag where a rectangular or triangular tongue extends from the upper fly corner of the flag, or where it has a strip along its top edge that extends beyond the fly to become a tongue (see also 'palm', ‘square-tongued’, ‘stepped fly’ and ‘tongue(s)’).
2) The tail as described above.

15th C Flag of Zurich, Switzerland (CS)

Please note, it is suggested that in the original German this term refers only to the tail.

A usually long narrow ribbon normally (but not exclusively) below the shield from a set of armorial bearings or the national emblem and inscribed with a motto or the name of a state (see also ‘Appendix IV’, ‘armorial bearings’, ‘coat of arms’, ‘emblem’ and ‘motto’).

An emblem or design representing a government or person that, when embossed upon or affixed to a document, proves its authenticity or which validates a legal instrument. The reproduction of an official seal often appears on US sub-national flags (see also ‘sub-national flag’ and ‘state flag 2)’).

[Seal of US state of Georgia]
State Seal of Georgia, US (fotw)

Please note, that whilst a seal originally showed the user’s badge or parts of their armorial bearings (and was used to create an impression on wax or lead), when seen on flags today it is generally not a coat of arms as defined herein.

See ‘Magen David’.

An old term, now rarely used outside the British and Canadian foot guards, for the regimental colour (see also ‘colour 2’ and ‘colours 2)’.

A system of signalling by means of two flags hand-held in various positions according to a recognized code (see also ‘Morse code signalling with flags’ and ‘wig wag’).
2) A system of signalling by means of movable mechanical arms, now obsolete but widely used prior to invention of the electric telegraph and a sea sometimes fitted aboard warships - telegraphing.
3) A system of flags, pennants and black shapes hoisted in various positions to indicate the state and height of the tide in some French ports.

[semaphore positions]
Positions in Semaphore (Jim Croft)

Please note with regard to 2), in British RN usage ships hoisted a designated semaphore flag to indicate that they were about to make a signal by means of the mechanical semaphore system.

See 'semaphore 2)', and note.
An originally heraldic term for where the field of a flag or shield is sown or strewn over with an indeterminate number of charges such as fleur-de-lis or stars.

[a semy flag]
National Flag of France 1814 – 1830 (fotw)

A cruciform vexilloid of classical Greece used aboard ship (to indicate command, for signalling and for identification) and sometimes draped with a phoinikis or purple cloak/length of cloth (see also ‘standard 5)’ and ‘vexilloid 2)’).

Please note that word semeion had a broad range of meanings in classical Greek all roughly corresponding to “sign” (see also ‘signum’) and it is accordingly suggested that the definition given above (whilst based on written sources) must be considered to some degree conjectural.

Also please note that semeia is the plural form of semeion, and that classical Greek writers also refer to “barbarian semeia” with those of the Phoenicians recorded as having been a globe and crescent.

A fine silk fabric originally used as a field for the finest quality of various flags.

A pennant hoisted to indicate the senior officer's ship when several warships of the same navy are alongside or at anchor in a port – a senior officer present afloat pennant (see also 'broad pennant', 'command pennant' and 'flag of command'). It should be noted however, that many different designs are in use by different navies, and that these might also have differing or additional meanings.

[Senior Officer Afloat pennants]
From left: Argentina (CS); Estonia (CS); France, French Forces only (CS)

Please note that a green, white and green square-ended pennant – the starboard pennant in the NATO signal code - is used for this purpose (at the starboard yardarm) by all warships of the Alliance, but usually only when there is no flag officer present who is flying his flag afloat. It is, however, also employed to indicate the senior officer when ships of more than one NATO navy are present in a port, irrespective of whether any flags of command or broad pennants are flying.

[starboard pennant]
The NATO Starboard Pennant (CS)

A saw-toothed line on a shield or flag – indented or dancetty (see also ‘wolfteeth’).

[Bahrain - serrated flag]
National Flag of Bahrain (fotw)

Please note that the five white points on the flag of Bahrain (illustrated above) refer to the five pillars of Islam.

1) See ‘state flag 1)’ (also ‘state service flag’).
2) See ‘ensign 2)’ and ‘government ensign’ under ‘ensign’.
3) In largely US usage, a flag authorized for display by families, employers, or other organizations to signify that one or more members is serving in the armed forces.

See Appendix III.

A nautical term for a pulley, the sheave being the revolving grooved wheel within the block and on which the halyard runs (see also ‘Appendix I’ and ‘halyard’).

A term (meaning “testimony” or “approval” in Arabic) that refers to the Islamic statement of faith which appears on several Arab flags, and is usually seen thereon in its shortened form - La allah illa Allah (wa) Muhammed rasulu Allah – or “There is no Deity but God (and) Muhammed is God’s messenger” (see also ‘takbir’).

National Flag of Saudi Arabia (Graham Bartram)

Please note that the full term reads Ashhadu Alla Ilaha Illa Allah Wa Ashhadu Anna Muhammad Rasulu Allah or "I bear witness that there is no Deity other than Allah and that Muhammad is his servant and Messenger". Please note also, that the use of a sacred text on the Saudi flag has resulted in many restrictions as to its use and appearance.

1) In heraldry the shield is the basic element of all armorial bearings, and forms the field on which the main heraldic charges are displayed. It is always blazoned first, and is often shown alone – an escutcheon (see also ‘Appendix IV’, ‘armorial bearings’, ‘coat of arms’ and ‘escutcheon’).
2) On flags as above, but the charge or charges displayed need not be heraldic in origin, and (usually shown with weapons) is often said to symbolize a willingness to defend the country.

A form of flag, now obsolete, where the fly is rounded and comes to a point (as on the base of a shield).

[Shield shaped]

See ‘flag patch’.

Any of a number of straight-sided flags as well as various triangular and squared-ended tapered pennants, of a generally simple, recognized design which, when flown singly or together are used to transmit messages in an established code, especially at sea - see 'numeral flag' and 'numeral pennant' (also 'hoist 2)', ‘flags 1)’, 'International Code of Signal Flags', 'dressing ship', 'church pennant', ‘yeoman of signals’.)

See ‘hoist 2)’.

See ‘hoist 2)’.

The bearer of a 'signum' (see ‘signum’ below).

1) Generically and in the plural (signa) all the vexilla, flags and vexilloids used by the ancient Roman army (see also ‘draco’, ‘eagle 2)’, ‘flammula’, ‘vexilloid 2)’ and ‘vexillum’).
2) Specifically and in the singular (signum) the vexilloid of a maniple, or subdivision of a Roman legion (see also ‘vexilloid 2)’).
3) The similar vexilloids of auxiliary units.

Please note that a “maniple” was one- third of a cohort (which was itself one-tenth of a legion) and in the first Century AD a standard maniple would consist of about 160 men.

Also please note that signum is the Latin for “sign” as semeion was in classical Greek (see also ‘semeion’).

See ‘company colours’.

See ‘pall’.

See ‘pile’.

See ‘triband 2)’.

See ‘tricolour 2)’.

The heraldic term for the left hand side of a flag or shield from the point of view of the bearer, or the right hand side from the point of view of an observer (see also ‘dexter’).

See ‘jolly roger’.

1) See ‘heading’.
2) Especially of an indoor flag, parade flag or military colour, a tube of material at the hoist into which the staff is inserted (see also ‘indoor flag’, ‘parade flag, ‘colour 2)’, ‘tab’ and ‘staff 2)’).

Please note that the increasingly (but by no means entirely) obsolete practice of cutting the sleeve of a military colour or parade into separate sections (with gaps in between) is almost certainly based on the earlier use of ties (see also ‘ties’).