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In one of my two native tongues there's an expression which, if literally translated, would sound somewhat like: "to make it one's flag"...

It may be used in a positive sense, connoting that someone has really devoted himself/herself to exercising his/her ideals in practice - and chances are that this is the prevalent usage - but it can also be amenable to a pinch of irony when such devotion is shown towards things that are commonly admitted as repercussions of vanity, or perhaps even sheer foolishness.

Here's a few examples where it might be used in the latter sense:

Getting together with your pals for a poker evening every once in a while is one thing. Making gamble your flag is quite another.

I can understand he finds it difficult to cut smoking; but that doesn't mean I approve of him strolling around, making “anti-hygienism” - or whatever you wanna call it - his flag!

I wonder if there is some English half-slangy (non-offensive) idiom that might do the same trick?

(Hope this one's clear enough).

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    Depending on the sense you're after one might use "mantra", "life's work", "ambition", "vocation", or "thing". And there are some ironic terms but they're not coming to me just now. – Hot Licks Nov 29 '16 at 22:42
  • Think the example sentences would be simpler to understand with just a _______ in the spot you want the word. – k1eran Nov 29 '16 at 22:49
  • And there's "calling", "career", "mission", "profession", "passion", "aspiration", "dream", "objective", "racket", and, my favorite, "métier". (A thesaurus is a wonderful thing. Try one sometime.) – Hot Licks Nov 30 '16 at 2:40
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    @HotLicks Let's say I went with "mantra" (I like it; there seems to be an inherent irony in drawing parallels between such activities and rituals related to religion.) Would you say "to make a mantra out of s/th" or "to turn s/th into a mantra"? – m.a.a. Dec 1 '16 at 19:12
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    To make xxx your mantra. (Each possible word carries it's own idiomatic usages.) – Hot Licks Dec 1 '16 at 19:16
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May not meet all of your requirements, but how about modus vivendi? For me, it conjures the sense of your "make it one's flag".

Dictionary.com:

modus vivendi: manner of living; way of life; lifestyle

Your examples:

Getting together with your pals for a poker evening every once in a while is one thing. Making gambling your modus vivendi is quite another.

I can understand he finds it difficult to cut smoking, but that doesn't mean I approve of him strolling around, making “anti-hygienism” his modus vivendi!

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Slightly close in terms of suggesting vanity is perhaps to put on airs.

In conjunction with your example of "make it one's flag", making something your calling card is fairly common. You might say of a friend they've made finding bad situations their calling card. It can be used positively or negatively, context determines the case.

http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/put+on+airs http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/calling+card

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it's not English, but raison d'etre can be used in both senses.

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    What do you mean "it's not English"? This is a well-recognised English expression (see, for example, Merriam-Webster, which BTW notes it's more commonly written with the circumflex, i.e. raison d'être), no less English than café, camouflage, naïve, garage, vis-à-vis, corps, etcetera. If you added the dictionary definition (and link), this would not only demonstrate the point, but also add the required authoritative evidence in support of your answer. – Chappo Says Reinstate Monica May 24 at 12:03

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