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Dictionary of Vexillology: Proposed Vexillological Conventions

Last modified: 2006-09-30 by phil nelson
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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The following conventions are proposed to standardise the methods used for describing flags in the vexillological community similar to standards used by the traditional blazon in heraldry.

In the formulation of these conventions, the following guidelines were kept in mind: The conventions must be simple and easy to understand by vexillologists and laymen alike; they must be flexible; and capable of being applied to the most complex of flag designs.

The conventions address the dominant design aspects of flags in the following order:

A. General Design and Colours

1) Flags are normally described commencing from the hoist of the obverse side. (However, in the Arabic tradition, flags are often depicted with the reverse side showing, that is, the hoist is to the right of the observer instead of to the left. The description would still be from the hoist, but now progressing to the left instead of to the right.)

2) The dominant design feature and shape (if not rectangular) of the flag is described using standard terminology such as plain field, bicolour, tricolour, barry, paly etc, as far as possible. If the basic design feature of the flag is a well known established flag or archivexillum it may be used to shorten the description.

3) The colours used in the design are described in the following order:

a) The colours of vertically striped flag fields are reported from the hoist.
b) The colours of horizontally striped fields are reported from the top.
c) The colours of flag fields divided cross-wise are reported in a clock-wise direction starting from the upper hoist canton.
d) The colours on the fields of flags divided saltire-wise are reported in a clock-wise direction starting at the hoist.
e) The colours of flag fields divided gyronny-wise are reported starting with the upper most hoist corner with the number of gyrons stated.
f) Colours may be described using either standard terminology (blue, light blue, dark blue etc) or the International Colour Code (B, B-, B+ etc).
g) The heraldic terms for tinctures and metals (azure, sable, argent etc) should only be used when blazoning a set of armorial bearings or a part thereof.

B. Proportions

1) The overall proportions of a flag are always indicated as the proportion of the hoist to the length and are notated as 1:2, 2:3, 3:5 etc. (Notice the use of a colon to separate the individual proportions.)

2) The width of horizontal stripes are always stated as a proportion of the width relative to the most narrow stripe, in order from top to bottom, and are notated as 1-1, 1-2, or 2-1-1, 1-2-1 etc. (Notice the use of a hyphen to separately specify the dimensions of the individual stripes.)

3) The width of vertical stripes is always stated as a proportion of the length relative to the narrowest stripe, in order from hoist to fly. They are notated as 1-1, 1-2, or 1-1-1, 1-2-1 etc. (Notice the use of a hyphen to separately specify the dimensions of the individual stripes.)

4) The widths of other stripes such as cross, saltire, pall, bend, bend sinister and fimbriations are always stated as a proportion of the width or length of a flag dependent upon orientation and are notated as 1/ 4, 1/ 6, 1/15 etc. (Notice the use of fractional notation.)

5) The proportions of the stripes of multi-striped flags (when more than three) if of equal width, are notated as a fraction of the width or length dependent upon orientation, i.e. 1/13 of width (Stars and Stripes) or 1/6 of length (Signal Flag Golf).

6) It is preferable to state all proportions in whole numbers if possible, for example, the stripes in the flag of Portugal should be stated as 2-3 rather than 1-1.5.

C. Charges

1) The position of charges on the field of a flag such as badges and emblems, are always assumed to be centred in the field of the flag or of any subdivision of the flag such as a canton, unless described as being otherwise.

2) The positions of multiple charges on the field of a flag or any portion or subdivision thereof, is always considered to be equally and regularly spaced unless specifically stated otherwise.

3) The height, diameter or other dimensions of charges defacing a flag such as badges and emblems, are always to be stated as a proportion of the width, and or length, of the flag or stripe it is placed upon.

4) If a charge is a coat of arms, the heraldic blazon may be included in the description if known, otherwise the actual charge should be described in plain language.

5) If the charge is a star (or stars), the following conventions are used:

a) A star is assumed to be five pointed unless otherwise stated, and if not, the number of points must be given.

b) A five-pointed star is assumed to be conventionally shaped (that is with the top edges of two points in line) unless otherwise stated.

c) The orientation of a star (or stars) are described as follows:

(i) Stars are described as being 'upright' when one point is aligned towards the top of the flag.
(ii) Stars are described as being 'inverted' when one point is aligned towards the bottom of the flag.
(iii) Stars with an even number of points where one point is aligned towards the top and another towards the bottom of the flag, are described as being upright.
(iv) When stars are not 'upright' or 'inverted', the orientation is stated by describing the direction of one of the points. (Example: China - the four smaller stars are arranged radially towards the centre of the larger star; Turkey - one point is aligned with the hoist).
(v) Stars are assumed to be 'regular' with the points equally spaced, unless otherwise stated.

d) The position of a star on the field of a flag is generally given by describing where its centre is located, or if more convenient and additionally by describing the location of one or more points. (Example Nauru - the star position could be described by the location of its centre as well as the distance of the upright point in relation to the stripe).

e) The dimensions of a star may be given in terms of:

(i) The diameter of a superscribed circle (the circle that would just enclose a star).
(ii) The height of the star in relation to the width of a stripe. (Example: Ghana - the height of the star equals the width of the centre stripe).

D. Shapes

1) Unless otherwise specified, the shape of the flag is assumed to be rectangular. Square flags are considered rectangles with proportions of 1:1.

2) If possible, standard terms for non-rectangular flags should be used, such as pennant, burgee, swallow-tail, etc.

3) Non-rectangular flags must be described in detail with respect to:

a) Depth of swallow-tail from crutch to fly in the case of flags and pennants.
b) Angle of variance from the horizontal for pennants and burgees.
c) Shape of the fly in the case of multi-tailed flags or single-tailed or multi-tailed pennants.