• flag •
flæg • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A banner (colored cloth) symbolizing something.
Notes: You would think that, used as a verb, this word would mean to wave proudly but, just the opposite: it means to hang limply or become weak and exhausted, as 'the conversation flagged toward evening'. As a transitive verb, it does mean "to use (as) a flag", as 'to flag a passing car' or 'flag an entry in an index'. The flagship of a fleet is the ship bearing the commander and the commander's flag. Flagship is also used to indicate the chief object of any group, as 'the flagship store of a chain'.
In Play: Flags are the symbols of nations, organizations, and military units, among others: "Many flags flew at half mast in New York when the Yankees lost the World Series." A lot of flags will be waving on the Fourth of July as the US celebrates the anniversary of its independence from Great Britain. But flags are being put to more questionable uses today: "The more conservative members of the racket club were offended at seeing Barry Noff in underwear made from a US flag."
Word History: Today's Good Word seems to have come from PIE plak- "flat; to spread", source also of Greek plax "flat", Norwegian flo "layer" and Russian ploskii "flat". The difference between [k] and [g] consists only of the vibration of the vocal cords in the [g], so that makes flake a possible derivation, too. The sense of "go limp, droop" first turned up in the verb in 1611. We see the same shift in the related Latin words flaccus and flaccidus "limp, dangling", borrowed by English as flaccid. Another suspect is English plank, borrowed from Latin planca "board". Apparently, plak- at one point was pla(n)k- with a Fickle N.
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