Random musings from the front line (well, more like the support trench, or perhaps the castle 10 miles away, supping Chateau Lafite with the General Staff) in the battle for curiosity, inertia, grammar and a Dachshund called Colin.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

State of the Union? Jack....

It's the 400th anniversary of our national flag, which is (predictably) being ignored by President Blair and his corrupt cronies, so here's one I prepared earlier!

Flag. Fashion statement! For reasons lost in the mists of time (er... or red wine induced amnesia) I learnt from an early age how to translate the immortal phrase: Azure, the Crosses Saltire of St. Andrew and St. Patrick, quarterly per saltire, counterchanged Argent and Gules, the latter fimbriated of the second, surmounted by the Cross of St. George of the third, fimbriated as the saltire. Or, as most people call it, the Union Jack. You see, unknown to most people, the our semi-official national flag actually has a right way, and a wrong way, of flying it, and once one knows this information, it becomes strangely irritating to see it flying upside down. And I, by an accident of education and curiosity, know which way that is. However, spurred on by a chance riposte to my "predantry" (good word!) about this subject by the incomparable Mr Lupin, I took to wondering why indeed the "flagologists" designed a flag that all but the most bored of ex-public schoolboys cannot tell if it is being flown correctly.

Well... what a can of worms. For a start, the flag perverts of the world (and there are as many of them on t'internet as there are of the more traditional sort of pervert) can't even agree what they are called: vexillogist or vexillologist. I can put that to rest straight away - the answer is the latter (from the Greek vexillos = flag and logos = word). Especially considering the topic of this week's post, I am pleased to report that it is our cousins across the Atlantic who can't spell, but that's hardly a surprise. Anyway, I digress...

Queen Anne's Jack According to Wikipedia, the Flag Institute and others, the story of the flag itself is fairly simple. The crowns of England and Scotland (although not the countries themselves) were combined in 1603, and in 1606 King James issued an edict about English and Scottish ships flying a flag at sea to indicate that they were subjects of the same monarch. This flag was the simple combination of the St George's Cross and the St Andrew's Cross, and was called the "Grand Union Flag", and apart from the post civil-war Commonwealth, was adopted as the representative flag of the monarchy and (after 1708) the national flag of the new country of "Great Britain" under Queen Anne. So far, so bleedingly obvious. The difficulty from a vexillological (first time I've ever written THAT word) point of view came in 1801, with the addition of those charming Celts to the nation, so forming the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland". Ireland had never had a defined national flag, so the "Cross of St Patrick" (a wishy washy compromise flag that had never been widely used) was added to the old Union Flag (generally nowadays referred to as "Queen Anne's Jack") to form the new Union Flag. Hurrah.

But here's where it get complicated. For some reason, it was decided that the red saltire (diagonal cross, DO keep up) of St Patrick wouldn't look sexy enough centrally superimposed on the white saltire of St Andrew, so they shifted each limb (similar to, but not exactly) clockwise a tad. Unfortunately this meant that for the last 204 years, our national flag has had a "right way up" and a "wrong way up", and hardly anyone knows which is which. Incidentally, the unseen bit in the middle of the flag, where the displaced limbs all meet (but which is hidden under St George's cross) looks a bit swastika like to me. Weird, huh? The strange swastika thing

So here it is - Merkin's guide to our flag, and how to get it right when you are next flying the thing:

According to Wikipedia, "a mnemonic to remind those flying the flag which end is up is Wide white top - the broad white stripe (composing part of the cross of Saint Andrew) should be above the red stripe (the cross of Saint Patrick) in the upper hoist of the flag (the hoist is the half of the flag near the flagpole). Flying the Union Jack upside-down may be regarded as a distress signal."

Neil Kinnock incurs the wrath of JackThat's fine and dandy if the Union Flag is being flown in real life, but traditionally, if a flag is just being displayed (not flown), or hung, or painted without a flagpole, the hoist is considered to be on the left. So, all the images on this page are as if there is an invisible flag pole on the left. However, if a pole is shown , or the strengthening cord that edges the hoist is visible (that runs up the pole), then the broad white stripe is uppermost on whichever side that is. Understood? Good! So, for example, at Labour's 1992 pre-election rally in Sheffield, the Union Flag was flown from the ceiling with the pole on the right, but with that all-important stripe uppermost on the left. So the flag was actually upside down, and Labour lost the election. And it's all the Union Flag's fault. Similarly, at Eurovision that year, the large Union Flag that Michael Ball wore on his suit was also upside down. And he came 2nd.

The right way upThe motto of this story? Don't mess with Jack!

(Images borrowed from various open source sites, and also Justin Broderick's US Naval Site. Thanks Justin!)

5 Rants & Replies:

Blogger Fuckkit said...

It is a pretty flag, isn't it?

*gets all patriotic*

1:48 pm, April 17, 2006

Blogger Mark Gamon said...


Glad to see you're back.

And already I've learnt a new meaning for the word 'hoist', plus a whole new word to amaze my friends at dinner parties: vexillological. Brilliant.

Not sure it's exactly a pretty flag. But at least you can't miss it. All those other countries with the three stripes: how on earth are we supposed to tell them apart?

12:27 pm, April 19, 2006

Blogger Aginoth said...

Nice to be back and see you back Merkin :o)

6:13 pm, April 21, 2006

Blogger Inexplicable DeVice said...

What a lovely surprise! Not the flag post (although it was gripping), your return, however briefly : )

11:27 am, April 23, 2006

Blogger Merkin said...

That's all very nice of you - I'm pink with pride that you all remembered me. I KNEW I couldn't keep away!

8:08 pm, April 23, 2006


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