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I am translating a history context talking about the Cold War and I am stuck with a word for the person in a war who holds the army's flag. This flag is used to show the mates that the army is still fighting. Usually when the flag is down, it could mean that the army is being defeated.

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    I call that an easy target. – ApplePie May 3 '17 at 13:10
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    "So long as its colors remain, and there is one man left to carry them, a regiment can never die; they can recruit it again around that one man, and the regiment will continue on its road to future glory with the same old traditions behind it and the same atmosphere surrounding it that made brave men of its forbears. So although the colors are not exactly the soul of a regiment, they are the concrete embodiment of it, and are even more sacred than the person of a reigning sovereign." —Talbot Mundy, The Soul of a Regiment – Colonel Panic May 4 '17 at 13:34
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    In the 'Cold War' context you are talking about, the idea of a military unit having a specifically designated standard-bearer other than at a formal parade is anachronistic. For the same reasons uniforms went from brightly colored to camoflauged and dull, bright heavily protected unit colors which were invariably near the command staff made them an obvious target and the practice fell out of favor in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century. – Jeff D. May 4 '17 at 17:33
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    Somehow I call such people flag carriers – SovereignSun May 4 '17 at 17:54
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    @SovereignSun As a native speaker I prefer flag bearer. A flag carrier is OK but sounds like a national airline. – Level River St May 5 '17 at 19:33

10 Answers 10

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how about 'Standard-bearer'?

A standard-bearer is a person (soldier or civilian) who bears an emblem called an ensign or standard, i.e. either a type of flag or an inflexible but mobile image, which is used (and often honoured) as a formal, visual symbol of a state, prince, military unit, etc. (Wikipedia)

Here's some reference to suggest the importance of a Standard bearer in battle.

The Standard Bearer should never surrender his Banner, if he, during a battle, could no longer safeguard the Banner; he should wrap his body into the Banner awaiting the final slash. (Safeguarding the flag)

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    Assign that duty to Ensign Crusher in the red shirt. – Kristopher May 5 '17 at 20:12
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    Color Guard would be more appropriate: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour_guard – SnakeDoc May 5 '17 at 21:13
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    Yes, color guard is indeed the appropriate name for this and is actually used in a military, with the name of the individual person who physically carries the flag differing depending on the military and context. This answer deserves a bit more credit, as does this one in some nations. Some of it depends on which nation (Cold War era) the OP is referring to. – Jason C May 5 '17 at 22:38
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    @SnakeDoc - Standard Bearer is perfectly correct, at least in the British Army when I was in it. Maybe you colonials call it something different, but this is english.stackexchange.com, not american.stackexchange.com... :-) – Graham Toal May 5 '17 at 23:56
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    @SnakeDoc If you have a better answer, why not post it? – nasch May 6 '17 at 0:56
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An old-fashioned/specialist1 term for this is standard-bearer. It is now more widely used as an idiom for someone who represents a cause of any sort, but the original meaning was the person who carried an army's standard or flag. From Oxford Dictionaries:

  1. A soldier who is responsible for carrying the distinctive flag of a unit, regiment, or army.
    1.1 A leading figure in a cause or movement.

This is from the now-rare meaning of standard

  1. A military or ceremonial flag carried on a pole or hoisted on a rope.

I don't know how widely-understood the literal meaning of the term is, but military history buffs would definitely know it.


1 Old-fashioned/specialist in the sense that the component words are used in ways that are no longer standard outside of specific contexts. Standard, in particular, is not used in everyday language for flag, and even bearer is used most commonly in more formal and ceremonial contexts, as in a pallbearer or a ring bearer, but not a mail bearer (mail carrier is far and away more common; see, for example, this Ngram).

That said, the term is neither obsolete nor archaic; in the proper context, it is the correct, still-current term. And the formality of the terms is appropriate to the formal, symbolic significance of the role, so I don't anticipate it being superseded by a modernization anytime soon.

  • The timing couldn't be better 1006a :) – Bhoomika Arora May 3 '17 at 8:10
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    I don't agree it's old fashioned, in the modern military they are still called standard bearers in the U.K. – Notts90 May 3 '17 at 11:18
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    It is an old-fashioned term that just so happens to still be being used. It will sound old-fashioned to many speakers' ears (if they've heard it at all!). Of course, that's not a reason not to use it, since the type of warfare this alludes to is relatively old-fashioned. – Cody Gray May 3 '17 at 12:20
  • Actually the standard doesn't have to be a flag. Plaques or statues are also in use. That dictionary citation is a bit too limited.E.g. the Roman Legions had standards more like statues mounted on a pole. (The Eagle standard is well-known). There was usually some cloth attached as decoration, but it was not really a flag. – Tonny May 4 '17 at 12:44
  • @Tonny Yes, some of the definitions I looked at mentioned that, but since the OP specifically asked about flags I thought I'd limit the answer to that scope. – 1006a May 4 '17 at 18:23
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In the British Army this person would be a Colour Sergeant or Staff Sergeant ("the colours" being an alternate name for the regimental flag)

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    As in the annual Trooping of the Colour ceremony in London on the Queen's birthday. The 'standard bearer' during this ceremony is a junior officer, a subaltern who may be flanked by a Colour or Staff Sergeant which may well have been the disposition on battlefields of yore. – Peter Point May 3 '17 at 17:54
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    Never occurred to me that that might be the origin of "staff sergeant"! – Hot Licks May 4 '17 at 0:21
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Bannerman

From Wiktionary:

A person assigned to carry the colours, standards or guidons of a military unit.

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    Note that this might be confusing to those of us who now get their historical jargon mostly from reading "A Song of Ice and Fire". :-) The word bannerman has a different meaning there. – Emil May 3 '17 at 14:18
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    A bannerman is not a standard-bearer: but rather a vassal (most of these terms date back to medieval times when heraldry was a major part of ennobled/military life) – GMasucci May 4 '17 at 8:58
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    @Emil And the moral of this story is to not treat magical fiction set in a bygone era as tool for learning historical terminology :P – Pharap May 5 '17 at 11:08
  • @Emil: If you get your "historical jargon" from a piece of fiction set in an entirely different world, you really only have yourself to blame. – Lightness Races in Orbit May 8 '17 at 0:42
  • @GMasucci, you're confusing bannerman with bannerlord or banneret. – user28434 May 8 '17 at 11:28
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Colour guard

Often there is a single bearer, but also guards to protect the bearer.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colour_guard

  • I feel like this is the best answer here. It's the actual terminology used by a military. The name of the person in the color guard who actually holds the flag varies by military but this just about covers all the bases. – Jason C May 5 '17 at 22:36
  • @JasonC It's also commonly used to describe extracurricular activities for children, though: Color Guard. The ROTC and Boy Scout usages are closer to the original meaning, but it still means the term could be associated with youth activities. – jpmc26 May 6 '17 at 0:39
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    @jpmc26 Correct, there are many words and phrases that have multiple uses. – Jason C May 6 '17 at 0:46
  • It's probably worth noting that "Color Guard" is the name of thew whole group responsible for carrying flags (not only the individual who's holding the flag). The flag-spinning kind of color guard evolved from the traditional military kind, as they are both associated with marching bands. – Blckknght May 7 '17 at 0:42
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While it's probably a bit esoteric for your purpose, the rank of ensign has historically had this duty - although the rank seems to have been long since abolished in most militaries.

(According to the linked Wikipedia article the rank is also used in Star Trek.)

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    The US Navy (and I believe Coast Guard) still has ensigns, but you have more ensigns than flags, so even if all standard-bearers are ensigns, not all ensigns will be standard-bearers. – MissMonicaE May 3 '17 at 16:11
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Guidon bearer

It is an honor to be the guidon carrier for a unit, known as a "guidon bearer" or "guide". He or she stands in front of the unit alongside of the commander (or the commander's representative), and is the rallying point for troops to fall into formation when the order is given. In drill and ceremonies, the guidon and commander are always in front of the formation.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guidon_(United_States)

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I'm surprised no-one has mentioned flag bearer yet. A google image search for this term gives images more reliably in keeping with what the OP wants than Standard bearer does. The latter term is several times more popular on ngrams, but, as the images reveal, it frequently refers to a Roman style standard, which was not made of cloth, but instead was a solid emblem at the top of a pole.

Flag carrier also finds images close to the OP's meaning, but it also finds images related to national airlines, because this is another meaning of this phrase.

  • NGram is probably a better resource than Google image searches, which does a lot magic to match more things than the exact term you searched. (Make sure the delete the direct_url part off the end if you want to share your own.) – jpmc26 May 6 '17 at 0:37
  • @jpmc26 ngram only tells you how common a word or phrase is, not what its meaning is. Thus "horse" is a vastly more common word than "zebra" but if you do an image search for both you can clearly see the difference between the two animals. I agree that image search is not perfect. – Level River St May 6 '17 at 1:57
  • Google image search isn't designed to communicate the meaning of a word either. It's designed to find things people want to find, which may or may correlate to actual usage in speech. – jpmc26 May 6 '17 at 3:28
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If you really want a single word definition, then how about "signifer".

A standard bearer of the Roman legions

A bit archaic I know!

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Color–bearer

One who carries a color or standard especially in a military parade or drill

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