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Flag terminology is the nomenclature, or system of terms, used in vexillology, the study of flags, to describe precisely the parts, patterns, and other attributes of flags and their display.

Flag types

Flag elements

[[INLINE_IMAGE|//|undefined|Parts of a flag|h143|w278]]

Basic patterns

Flags often inherit traits seen in traditional European heraldry designs and as a result patterns often share names.

Techniques in flag display

Flag illustrations generally depict flags flying from the observer's point of view from left to right, the view known as the obverse (or "front"); the other side is the reverse (or "back"). There are some exceptions, notably some Islamic flags inscribed in Arabic, which is written from right to left; for these the obverse is defined as the side with the hoist to the observer's right.

Flag identification symbols

A vexillological symbol is used by vexillologists to indicate certain characteristics of national flags, such as where they are used, who uses them, and what they look like. The set of symbols described in this article are known as international flag identification symbols, which were devised by Whitney Smith.

Some countries use a single flag design to serve as the national flag in all contexts of use; others use multiple flags that serve as the national flag, depending on context (i.e., who is flying the national flag and where). The six basic contexts of use (and potential variants of a national flag) are:

In practice, a single design may be associated with multiple such usages; for example, a single design may serve a dual role as [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|FIAV 001001.svg|h15|w23]] war flag and ensign. Even with such combinations, this framework is not complete: some countries define designs for usage contexts not expressible in this scheme such as air force ensigns (distinct from war flags or war ensigns, flown as the national flag at air bases; for example, see Royal Air Force Ensign) and civil air ensigns.

Other symbols are used to describe how a flag looks, such as whether it has a different design on each side, or if it is hung vertically, etc. These are the symbols in general use:

  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Normal.svg|h13|w21]] Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Proposed.svg|h13|w21]] Design was proposed in the past, but never officially adopted
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Reconstruction.svg|h13|w21]] Design is a reconstruction, based on past observations
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Reverse.svg|h13|w21]] Reverse side of flag
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Variant.svg|h13|w21]] Design is an acceptable variant
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Alternate.svg|h13|w21]] Alternative version of flag
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS De facto.svg|h13|w21]] De facto version of flag
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Two-sided.svg|h13|w21]] Flag has different designs on its obverse side and its reverse side
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Sinister.svg|h13|w21]] Obverse side meant to be hoisted with pole to the observer's right
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Authorised.svg|h13|w21]] Design officially authorized to represent nation by government of that nation
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Historical.svg|h13|w21]] Design used in the past, but now abandoned (this symbol is not part of Smith's original set)
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Mirror.svg|h15|w21]] Reverse side is mirror image of obverse side
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Equal.svg|h15|w21]] Reverse side is congruent to obverse side
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS No reverse info.svg|h15|w21]] Information on reverse side is not available
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Vertical normal.svg|h13|w21]] Flag can be hung vertically by hoisting on a normal pole, then turning the pole ninety degrees
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Vertical rotated.svg|h13|w21]] Flag can be hung vertically by rotating the design first
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Vertical unknown.svg|h13|w21]] Vertical hoist method of flag is unknown
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Vertical inapplicable.svg|h13|w21]] Design has no element which can be rotated
  • [[INLINE_IMAGE|//|// 1.5x, // 2x|IFIS Vertical exclusive.svg|h15|w21]] Flags can only be hoisted vertically

In April 2017, a preliminary proposal[3] to encode vexillology symbols was submitted to the Unicode Consortium.

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