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Dictionary of Vexillology: Introduction


Last modified: 2006-09-30 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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This Dictionary has its origins in the inconclusive discussions on the FOTW mailing list concerning flag definitions that occurred in May and June of 2005. As a result, we three contributors formed ourselves off-list into a voluntary and unofficial international committee in an attempt to find a series of simple descriptive conventions upon which everybody could agree. Any such list, of course, had to be flexible enough to allow for individual expression, yet at the same time be easily understood, precise in description and immediately understandable. It became at once apparent, however, that the study of flags had a number of ‘grey areas’ which made the task practically impossible without a solid basis of vexillological definition, and that no such base actually existed! The definitions given below are, therefore, the result of our deliberations via E-mail over several months, and each reflects a consensus honed after careful thought and considerable intra-committee discussion.

At the start of this process, one of the first guiding principles we adopted was “keep it simple”, and whilst we have never lost sight of that admirable precept, the very richness and complexity of the subject matter and the need to be comprehensive has sometimes been an overriding factor. Wherever possible we have tried to offer at least one precise interpretation of a particular entry as well as any generic meanings, and we have also made it a point to retain well-known and/or traditional definitions, as well as any possible or historic alternatives.

It should be emphasized however, that the definitions given in this Dictionary are applicable only to English language vexillology, and the foreign terms we have incorporated are those that have been adopted for use in English. Our non-English speaking colleagues are, of course, encouraged to make free use of these definitions as needed in the compilation of similar dictionaries in their own languages.

The Editors also acknowledge the spelling differences between English speakers in the US, and those elsewhere. Where considered appropriate, both spellings of a word or term are indicated.

The etymology of the word ‘flag’ is the subject of some debate amongst writers on vexillology, and these same writers offer quite widely differing interpretations of how the word should be defined. The Editors, therefore, have defined ‘flag’ only in the most generic and non-restrictive of terms, considering it both more useful and more productive to define flags individually by their varying types and/or usage.

We also took note of the fact that vexillology and heraldry are closely linked disciplines, and that a large number of flags, as well as their associated terms, are based upon or derived from heraldic symbols and heraldry in general. A work such as this must of necessity therefore, include many of these heraldic terms whose origin lies in archaic Norman French. As the list of these terms given in the Dictionary will contain many gaps, it is accordingly suggested (as is also suggested frequently throughout the text) that a suitable glossary or dictionary of heraldry – such as that to be found on-line at - be consulted if further or more detailed information is required.

Unlike the terms used in heraldry however, those employed in vexillology are still evolving, with new terms being created or borrowed from various sources, and others falling out of use. It has therefore been our intention to capture those that have been – or are in the course of being - established in common vexillogical usage. There are basically two ways in which a word or phrase has entered the Dictionary - firstly through being recorded in a published source, and/or secondly, by established usage. Vexillology is, however, a developing discipline with new words or terms being introduced or re-defined at frequent intervals without, as yet, being formally recorded or (perhaps more importantly) having acquired any consistent usage pattern. The Editors have, therefore, listed (and could consequently only list) their creator’s original definition. There have, in addition, been a very small number of situations where no suitable existing term could be found, and the Editors themselves have been compelled to introduce a proposal (whilst at the same time recording the fact that they have done so).

Finally, in preparing this Dictionary the Editors are greatly indebted to Joe McMillan and Željko Heimer for their insightful criticism and extensive material contributions to the final product. Similarly, the Editors would like to extend their grateful thanks to Phil Nelson, Santiago Dotor and Michael Faul for the trouble they took to review and comment on their work. They also freely acknowledge their additional debt to the vexillogical and heraldic expertise of Messrs. Crampton, Gregg, Inglefield, Lister, Parker, Pedersen, Perrin, Smith, Wilson, Znamierowski and others - to NAVA, and of course, to the invaluable contributions by other members of the FOTW mailing list.


Andries Burgers
Terence Martin
Christopher Southworth

December 2005

FOTW Editorial Notes

This presentation appeared in a different format and all attempts to retain the original formatting have been made by the FOTW editors. This is a work in progress and as such may change as corrections are made. Corrections and additions are noted in a separate page.

The FOTW editor has attempted to keep the number of links outside of the presentation to a minimum, when needed to link to areas where additional information may be important to the reader.

All references to the word "editors" in this case refer to Andries Burgers, Terence Martin and Christopher Southworth who are the sole authors of this work.

Artistic credits in the document are as follows:

  • (fotw) - the image originated in a form on the FOTW website.
  • (CS) - Christopher Southworth
  • (AB) - Andries Burgers
  • (TM) - Terrence Martin
  • (Bartram) - Graham Bartram
  • (Grieve) - Martin Grieve

The document may also use images from other sources, particularly heraldic material, which is identified by the author's name, i.e. Parker.