Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
Keywords: vexillology | terminology | etymology | vexillum |
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My dictionary has it (with a '?') related to the word 'flap'. Personally, I
don't buy it, because such similar words exist in Danish and German.
Albert S. Kirsch, 16 September 2003
According to Perrin the etymology of the word is "obscure", but he goes on to say that "Perhaps the most satisfactory of the derivations hitherto put forward is that of Professor Skeet, who derives it from the Middle English 'flakken' to the fly", and given the similarity of the word in Danish and Norse, Swedish, German and Dutch I personally would suggest that this makes sense.
English developed through successive invasions (incursions or settlements if
you prefer) by Angles, Saxons, Jutes and Norsemen etc., from the 4th to the 10th
Centuries AD, and so is a complex amalgam of related sources. As I understand
it, "Middle English" implies no significant Norman-French influence..
Christopher Southworth, 16 September 2003
'Middle English' (roughly the English of Chaucer, ca 1400) does contain a
great deal of French. 'Old English' or 'Anglo-Saxon' is pre-1066. It is clearly
a Germanic language. My little (and antique) Anglo-Saxon Grammar has the verb 'fle˘gan'
meaning 'to fly', and I expect it's of a piece with related words in German,
Dutch, Norse, etc. No non-Germanic tribe invaded England ('Angle-land') until
1066; though they spoke French, they too were Northmen by descent (Normans; not
a folk etymology - William the Conqueror descended from Rolf the Viking.)
Albert S. Kirsch, 17 September 2003
An object which functions as a flag but differs from it in some respect, usually appearance. Vexilloids are characteristic of traditional societies and often consist of a staff with and emblem, such as a carved animal, at the top.
According to Charlton Lewis' Elementary Latin dictionary, a vexillium
is "a military ensign, standard, banner, or flag." A vexillarius is
"a standard-bearer, or under the empire, the oldest class of
According to Lawrence Keppie, The Making of the Roman Army, "Marius [Gaius Marius, Roman general of the early 1st century B.C. and reorganizer of the Roman army] is also credited with making the eagle (aquila) the legion's first standard, and a focus of loyalty and affection. Our source, the Elder Pliny, places the adoption of the eagle at 104 B.C...He notes that the legion hitherto had had a variety of standards--the eagle (which had always had the first place) the wolf, the minotaur, the horse and the boar, and that all had been carried in front of different elements of the legion...All were animal totems, reflecting the religious beliefs of an agricultural society. The boar also appears as an important battle-standard among the Celts...coins of 82 and 49 [B.C.] show an aquila flanked by other standards which bear a little square plaque or flag with the single letters H and P. These must be standards specifically for the hastati and princepes [two of the three components of the legion, along with the triarii]...they consist of slender poles decorated with circular bosses, but bear no animal figures....At the close of the Republic [late 1st cent. B.C.] it seems likely therefore that the legion's three most important standards were the aquila in the care of the primus pilus (chief centurion of the triarii) and two others, presumably in the charge of the princeps and the hastatus (senior centurions of the other two groups)...the eagle-bearer (aquilifer) of the legion was thus the man who carried the standard of the senior century of the First Maniple of the triarii [i.e. he was in front]. In battle and on the march the standards were important as a rallying point. To lose, or surrender, a standard, especially the eagle itself, was a disgrace."
Josh Fruhlinger, 13 March 1996
The vexillum (pl. vexilla; v pronounced like an English w in classical Latin)
was the term for the standard carried by the Roman legion. This word is itself a
diminutive for velum, sail, which confirms the art historical evidence (from
coins and sculpture) that vexilla were literally "little sails" i.e.
flag-like. (Velum in English has various specialized meanings, mostly pertaining
to sail-like things: the membranes of certain mollusks, and a kind of drafting
paper, bear the name.) Going further back, the word velum comes from the
Indo-European roots VAG- or VEH-, involving motion. These produced the Germanic
words that became Saxon (and later English) words like wagon and way, which are
unrelated to the flying verbs above.
Josh Fruhlinger, 26 November 1996
From the Oxford English Dictionary: