Monday, 11 June 2012

I'm All Right Jack

Union Flag in the Study

                         Small things are often called ‘jacks’. A Jack Snipe is the smallest type of snipe, a Jack Pike is a small pike, and in the game of bowls the small target bowl is called a Jack. On sailing ships the small bowsprit, or staff, for flags is called the jack-staff, and the small flag flown on it is the ‘jack’. On Royal Navy ships, the jack flown at the bow, or rear, is the Union Flag, hence the Union Jack. One tale is that the crusaders wore distinctive surcoats, or jacques, to identify themselves, and would often hang a jacque from the bowsprit of their ship, (these coats, the jacque, is where we get our word ‘jacket’). Another story is that King James I signed his name in the French manner – Jacques – and his flag took his name, anglicised to ‘Jack’. Following the death, in 1603, of Elizabeth I, who died without issue, the crown passed to James I of England (James VI of Scotland). In a proclamation of 1606, a new ‘British’ flag was declared, combining the cross of St George and the cross of St Andrew (a white saltire on a blue background). With the union of Great Britain and Ireland, in 1801, the red diagonal cross on a white background was added, (popularly called the Cross of St Patrick, but very seldom used), giving the current form of the flag. 

Another Union Flag in the Study.

Amongst the proclamations issued by George III at the time of the Union was one regarding ‘Our Flags, Jacks and Pendants’ referring to maritime flags, whilst another, regarding other flags, specifically designates the ‘Union Flag’. It can be said that a flag flown on land is the Union Flag, whilst the same flag flown at sea is a Union Jack, but through common usage, the terms are interchangeable, and it is correct to call it by either name. 

Union Jacks on my desk.

The proper size of the flag is twice as long as it is wide, although the British Army also uses a flag in the ratio 3:5 (sometimes called the ‘War Flag’). In order to show the precedence of the Union with Scotland, the broad part of the white St Andrew’s cross should be above the red cross of St Patrick, running clockwise around the flag, so when flown the right way up, the broader white stripe should be above the red stripe in the top left corner of the flag, nearest the flagstaff, (called the ‘fly’). If the narrow white stripe is uppermost, then the flag is upside down – which sometimes happens. 

A man flying the Union Flag upside-down.

It is usual, when signalling distress, to hang a flag upside down, so it’s important that the flag is flown correctly, to avoid sending out the wrong message. A flag can also be flown at half-mast to express distress, mourning or respect. Correctly, a flag at half-mast should be flown one flag’s width down the flagpole, in order to make room for the invisible flag of Death, but flags are often flown half way down the flagpole. Flags of one nation should never be flown above the flag of another nation on the same flagpole, as this is highly disrespectful, implying the superiority of one country over the other. The Union flag may be flown at half-mast on the death of the Monarch, but the Royal Standard is never flown at half-mast, as the next in line to the throne automatically becomes the Monarch at the death of their predecessor. 

My mug and my tea-tray

Another incorrect usage is the contraction of ‘all right’ to ‘alright’. ‘All right’ is two words. ‘All together’ is two words, “The family were all together”; ‘altogether’ is one word, “They were altogether happy”. “All ready” is two words, “We were all ready to party”; “Already” is one word, “We were already partying”. “All most” is two words, “They were all most satisfied”; “Almost is one word, “They were almost satisfied”. It is not all right to use alright, that is just alwrong. All right?

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