Friday, October 1, 2010

The Language of Flags - US States etc.

This city abounds with flags - and not just in government buildings. In front of Union Station you can see the flags of all 50 states in the order they were admitted into the Union. Above (from L to R), the most recent states (Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Alaska, and Hawaii), then DC, and finally all the other US territories and commonwealths (Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, and Northern Mariana Islands).

Vexillology, the study of flags, employs an arcane lexicon that ultimately derives from medieval heraldry (see this website for some of this vocabulary). I would describe the Hawaiian flag (just right of center in the photo above) as something like "the British flag in the top-left corner with stripes on the rest of it" but the flag is officially described in these terms:

(3) A red cross bordered with white is charged (placed) over all.
[From The Hawaii Revised Statues, Vol. 1, Ch. 5, Sec. 19 - see here]

The DC flag, above (center), is commonly understood to have heraldic origins (see my earlier posting for a fuller description).

I think that the most attractive use of flags as a decorative motif in a building is in the Kennedy Center. In the grand Hall of Nations, flags appear in alphabetical order by country name. Above, we see Australia (top left) followed by A's and B's.

In the equally-grand Hall of States, the flags are arranged chronologically according to date they were admitted into the Union. The flags begin with Delaware (in the back right) and proceed toward the front of the right-hand wall; they they start up again on the left-hand wall (front left of this photo) and proceed to the end, followed by the US "non-states."

For more on each of the 50 state flags, see this website.

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