Monday, 10 September 2012

What is the meaning of the expression come with flying colors?

What is the meaning of the expression come with flying colors?

If you do something successfully such as pass an exam or graduate from a college, you do it with flying colors.

He passed with flying colors.
She graduated from Harvard with flying colors.

Now what has colors to do with doing something successfully?

A good question, if you have asked that.

The word colors has got something  to do with flags. If you look at the word carefully, you will note that it is in plural. The word means the colors that are used to represent a team, a group, a club or a country. In British English, it means a flag or a shirt or something that shows to which group or team or country a person supports or belongs to.

When a team or a country is successful at a game or an activity, it has set its flag flying.  It has done the activity with flying colors. It has done it successfully.

Flying colors is a nautical term. Ships, victorious in a battle field, would return home with its flag flying on the masthead. On the other hand, ships that had lost in a battle, and if they did not sink,  they would go back home with their colors struck. Thus the expression strike the colors.

If the ships fought bravely and went down fighting, it went down with flying colors or went down with colors flying.

It should not be difficult now to guess the meaning of sail under false colors. This has reference to pirates using false flags and seizing an unsuspecting ship.

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