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Encyclopaedia of Ismailism by Mumtaz Ali Tajddin

The Arabic word for the flag is alam (pl. a'lam), meaning signpost or flag. The terms liwa and raya are also used for the flag, banner or standard. In Persian, the word band and dirafsh, and in Turkish, the bayrak is used for the banner. And as flags serve to delineate a ruler's territory, it is not surprising that one of the Turkish terms for a certain administrative unit is sancak, i.e., flag.

It is simply a piece of flexible cloth, varying in size, colour and device, but most frequently oblong or square, borne on by one edge to a staff or to a halyard, or fastened to a trident pole; used as a standard, ensign or signal and also for decoration or display. It is tied normally to a staff at least on one side to be viewed from both sides. Among the forms of flags are standards, banners, ensigns, pennants or pendants, burgees and guidons.

The English word flag first occurred in 1569. The word evolved in different European languages, such as the Scandinavian as flagg or flagga, the Germany as flagge or flacke, the Danish as flag, the Dutch as vlag or vlagghe, etc. Whether the word originated in English or other European languages, it may plausibly be supposed to be an onomatopoeic formation, expressing the notion of something flapping in the wind.

The word banner also is seen in different forms in the European languages, such as it was banare or baniere in old French, banieira or bandieira in present French, bandera in Spanish, bandum or bannum in Latin, bandwa in Gothic, etc. Banners, which were essentially heraldic, go back to 1162 by Count Philip of Fanders. In the literal sense, now chiefly historical; in poetry or elevated prose, it is applied to the standard or flag in figurative expressions. In sum, the banner is a piece of stout taffeta, or other cloth, attached by one side to the upper part of a long pole or staff, and used as the standard. There is no hard and fast rule governing the size of the flag. The width is usually greater than the depth. There is also no universally accepted code of flag law.

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