Word of the Day: flag

Word of the Day
August 17, 2016
flag (noun, verb)
/flæg/   sound icon
The white flag is used in war to ask for a negotiation.
Most commonly, a flag is a rectangular piece of cloth used as a symbol, usually of a country or other organizations. Figuratively, flag is used to talk about the values and feelings associated with your country. A flag is also any distinctive mark attached to a page to call someone's attention to it. In computing, a flag is symbol that identifies important data. As a verb, to flag means 'to decorate with flags,' 'to raise a flag to call attention to something,' as done is sports, and 'to stop a taxi or vehicle as if waving a flag' (in this sense, it is usually used with the adverb down). To flag also means 'to mark a page or a computer file for attention.' Flag has another unrelated meaning as a verb, 'to fall off in energy or activity' and 'to hang loosely.'


Example sentences
The soldier raised the flag.
They all swore allegiance to the flag.
This email has a flag; I must have thought it was important.
The linesman flagged the point where the ball went offside.
Julie was lost and had no signal on her phone; she had to flag down a passing car to ask for help.
Every week, Larry flags the recipes he plans to cook so he can easily find them again.
The staff has been working hard to fill that big order, but their enthusiasm is starting to flag; I think they need a day off!
The wind dropped and the ship's sails flagged.


Multi-word forms
raise the white flag: The white flag was used to admit defeat and surrender on the battlefield, or to signal that a person or group was unarmed and wanted to talk. Historians from Ancient Rome (around the year 100) mention its use, though it may have been used even earlier, in the battlefields of what is now China. We use the expression mostly figuratively these days, either to admit defeat or to try to solve a conflict by talking. Fly the white flag and hoist the white flag are also used in the same sense (hoist means to raise or move something up). Examples: "After realizing they were surrounded, the small band of rebels put down their swords and raised the white flag." "I didn't want to argue over the color of the walls forever, so I raised the white flag and told my husband he could paint the kitchen yellow if he wanted."
Did you know?
The oldest meaning of flag is actually one few people know today: it is a kind of plant, usually one that grows in wet areas, with long, grasslike leaves and pretty flowers. Some people even think that the meaning we know today may come from the plant, because its flowers fluttered in the breeze. Nowadays, we mostly know these plants by their more common Greek name, iris, though some, like the blue flag iris, still retain their former name.
Other forms
flagger (noun)
The oldest sense of flag, as you know, comes from the name of the plant, and first appeared in the 14th century. It probably came from Scandinavian languages, and is related to the Danish flæg (yellow iris). By the late 15th century, flag had evolved to mean 'a cloth symbol or ensign.' Many other Germanic languages, like German (Flage) and Dutch (vlag) also register this meaning from around the same time. The figurative sense of flag was first used in the 19th century, and the tabs we attach to files to mark something first appeared in the 1930s. The verb dates back to the mid-15th century, meaning 'to flap or flutter.' It came from the Middle English verb flakken or flacken, which probably evolved from the way the plants that were called flags moved in the wind. The sense meaning 'hang or go limp' is from the 17th century, and that's where we get the modern meaning of losing energy. The use of flags as signals started in the 19th century, for trains, before being used for sports and other things, and the use of the word came with it.
Flag in other languages
Flag was suggested by Carlos, from Costa Rica
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