The English language needs a good budget, and a bit of self-discipline.
One minute it throws around words with extravagant abandon. Think a moment. How many words do we have for a person’s hindquarters? (Don’t think too hard, please.)
Really, we only need one. “Hindquarters.”
“Please sit on your hindquarters.”
“Those slacks are a bit tight across your hindquarters.”
The only possible improvement to “My Fair Lady” would be Eliza Doolittle screeching, “Come on Dover! Move yer bloomin’ hindquarters!”
Next thing we know, English is going all Dave Ramsey on us. In a too-little too-late effort to conserve words, it tries to use the same one over and over.
English initially called it a noun and decreed it would apply to a banner or a pennant.
But even after years as a waving noun, flag had plenty of good wear in it. So the powers holding the language pursestrings decided, “Hey. Instead of investing in a new word, let’s use flag as a verb, too!”
A very active verb. It can indicate, tag or label something we want to save.
Don’t want to lose an email in the avalanche? Flag it. Notice how I flagged the word “flag” with bold font in this post?
Flag proved so efficient as a marker that it was stretched and repurposed as a warning. The IRS (who know how to wring value out of anything) gleefully grabbed it to flag folks just hoping to fly under the radar for another year.
Still in the penny-pincher mode, word-thrifts thought of another way to get more mileage out of flag.
Stuck with a flat tire on the side of the road and want to signal a passing motorist to stop? Need to hail a cab in New York City? Here I am, says the weary flag. Use me.
Even the most frugal of word hoarders know when a word is getting threadbare. Flag was almost ready for the rag pile, so they agreed its final use would be undemanding.
Flag can be used to describe someone running out of steam, out of energy, fading fast.
Flagging, tagging, lagging, flag has served us well.
Perhaps its greatest moment comes when bragging on what it stands for. Here in the United States our Flag stands for tradition and innovation, great courage and greater kindness, a history checkered with triumph and tragedy, pride and shame.
Our flag reminds us that we’re in this together, and we better figure out how to make it work. It reminds us that we’ve always had fractures and divisiveness. We always will.
You’re in this together, our flag tells us. Figure it out.
When the word gods start squandering words left and right again (they come up with dozens to describe “under the influence” when one will do—Idiot) they may take away some of flag’s other functions.
It won’t let one go without a fight.
Knowing we need something to rally around, something to remind us that we’re puny parts of an amazing whole,
Flag doesn’t blanch and turn pale. We don’t wave a white flag. We wave one bursting with robust color.
Our flag is still there. When we stomp off our separate ways, petty grudges or potent factions dividing us, it keeps dragging us back. We’re in this together. We best figure it out.