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Vexillology is the scholarly study of flags. The word is a synthesis of the Latin word vexillum, meaning "flag", and the suffix -logy, meaning "study of". The vexillum was a particular type of flag used by Roman legions during the classical era; its name is a diminutive form of the word vela meaning sail, and thus literally means "little sail". Unlike most modern flags, which are suspended from a pole or mast along a vertical side, the square vexillum was suspended from a horizontal crossbar along its top side, which was attached to a spear.

The term was coined in 1957 by the American scholar Whitney Smith[citation needed], the author of many books and articles on the subject. It was originally considered a sub-discipline of heraldry, and is still occasionally seen as such. It is sometimes considered a branch of semiotics.[1] It is formally defined in the FIAV (Fédération internationale des associations vexillologiques) constitution as "the creation and development of a body of knowledge about flags of all types, their forms and functions, and of scientific theories and principles based on that knowledge." A person who studies flags is a vexillologist; a person who designs flags is a vexillographer; and any person who simply likes, admires, or enjoys flags is a vexillolophile.

Every second year FIAV organizes the International Congress of Vexillology (ICV). The 2007 ICV was in Berlin, Germany; the 2009 ICV was in Yokohama, Japan; the 2011 ICV will be held in Washington, DC, USA ( Internet activity of vexillologists is centered on the Flags of the World website and mailing list.


Flag identification symbols (FIS)

The Flag Identification System was created by Whitney Smith and adopted by FIAV.

The first row represents use on land and the second use on water, each divided into private (civil), government (state), and military (war) use.

There are 63 representing symbols that can describe the flag, including:

Other symbols are used to describe other aspects of the usage of the flag, such as official status and which side of the flag is being shown. The ones in general use are:

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