iTranslate Presents: Fun with Flags

“Hello. We’re iTranslate, and welcome to iTranslate presents: Fun with Flags.” 

The amount of national flags of independent countries is said to be around 197. But the number of flags vary by states and countries: For example, the United Kingdom has a flag, but so do England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Vexillology is the scientific exploration or study of the history, symbolism, and usage of this vast number of flags. The term “Vexillology” derived from the Latin word “Vexillum,” which means “flag,” and the Greek suffix “-logia,” meaning “study.” The very first flags were used on battlefields to help military co-ordination. Using something visual indeed made sense, since it carried communications much quicker than sending messages on foot or by horseback. But highly elaborately-patterned flags were also used on ships to send signals or detailed messages. 

The design of a country’s flag usually reflects the history of the nation, its population, and its culture, even though most designs might seem meaninglessly simple. But don’t let that fool you, there’s much more behind it than you might think.

Many flags have three vertical or horizontal divisions, each of which has a different color. France’s flag, for example, has vertical divisions in blue, white, and red. The German flag has horizontal divisions in black, red, and gold. The Scandinavian countries also have all crosses in different colors on their flags, which is supposed to represent Christianity. On the other hand, Denmark’s flag has the oldest design, which is still in use today and was developed in the 13th century. Many flags, such as those from Turkey, Algeria, Pakistan, and Israel, carry religious symbols, such as a crescent moon, that represents Islam. Many countries in Africa have green, red, black, and yellow colors on their flags, which are supposed to embody people, bloodshed, fertile land, and hope for independence and peace (for example, Uganda and the Republic of the Congo). As a completely different example, Libya’s flag is entirely green, which should also symbolize Islam. The flag of this country has no other color or design, hence making it unique.

A flag’s format is usually square except for Nepal, whose flag is shaped like two stacked triangles representing the Himalayas and the two religions Hinduism and Buddhism. The sun and moon represent the hope that the country will last as long as these celestial bodies. Switzerland and Vatican City are also the only two countries with square flags. Furthermore, Bhutan’s flag has a dragon in its design called the Thunder Dragon and is the symbol of this nation. On the other hand, Kenya’s flag includes a shield representing the courage of the Masai warriors.

And then there’s another type of flag that differs from all the others by having two different designs on both the front and back. Saudi Arabia’s flag, f.e. includes the symbol of a sword and some Arabic inscriptions, which are shown slightly differently on the two sides. Because the flag contains holy scriptures, the back of the flag is a duplicate of the front, and usually, two flags are sewn together. The Moldova flag, however, only had an emblem on the front until 2010, but not on the back. Paraguay’s flag also has the state seal (Sello Nacional) on the front, but the state coat of arms (Sello de Hacienda) is on the back.

The infographic from Just the Flight looks at some of the world’s most iconic flags, and the intricate stories and ideals that can be found in their designs.