NZTC International Word of the Week: Vexillologist


If flags are your hobby, you may be a vexillologist, and even a member of one of the many Vexillological Associations in the world today. Vexillology involves studying the history of flags, along with their symbolism and usage. The word is a synthesis of the Latin word vexillum (flag or “little sail”) and the Greek suffix-logia (study). The term vexillology was coined by American Whitney Smith in 1959. The German equivalent is Flaggenkunde.

A University of Canterbury, New Zealand, research project studied the choice of colour combinations of the flags of 194 countries. They found that red, white, green and dark blue together made up for almost 75 percent of the surface in all flags. They also correlated flag colours with social-economic indicators. They found that the more white a flag contained, the higher the per capita GDP, and identified an indirect association between the colour green on flags and poverty.

While the etymology of the word vexillology is indisputable, surprisingly there is no agreement or clear information as to the origin of the common English word “flag” in this sense.