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Dictionary of Vexillology: G (Gaff - Giton)

Last modified: 2015-05-19 by rob raeside
Keywords: vexillological terms |
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A spar rigged at an upward angle from the upper part of a mast or pole, and equipped with a halyard at its highest point from which an ensign is flown when at the peak. A gaff may be fitted to the mizzenmast (or other masts dependent upon the rig) of a sailing ship, or from the mast of a warship (when it will sometimes carry a command flag), or from a mast (or stayed mast) ashore (see also ‘fore’, ‘halyard’, ‘mast’, ‘mizzen’, ‘outrigger pole’, ‘peak’, ‘sailor’s mast’, ‘shift colours’ and ‘stayed mast’).


If a gaff is fitted to a flag pole or mast for civilian or naval use ashore, it is generally (but not exclusively) that flag which is used as a naval/civil ensign (or a yacht ensign if appropriate) which is flown from its peak (see also ‘civil ensign’ and ‘yacht ensign’ under ‘ensign’)
b) (While underway) sailing ships - whether civilian or naval - still have the option of flying their ensigns for the peak of the gaff if fitted, or from two-thirds the way up the leech of the mainsail if Bermuda rigged (see also ‘leech’).

A medieval term, now obsolete, for the carriage upon which a standard was fixed – a carrocerum (see also ‘standard 6)’ and ‘vexilloid’).

Please note that in the early-middle ages, standards were sometimes (for reasons which are now unclear) transported into battle and displayed whilst mounted on some form of wheeled conveyance.

A Portuguese generic term that covers a number of small flags or pennants (in several, varying types), often given away or sold as souvenirs.

A three or four-masted sailing vessel of the late 16th -- early 18th Century (see also ‘caravel’ and ‘carrack’).

galleon galleon galleon
The Golden Hind 1577, England (Wikipedia); Arms and Flag of Viana do Castelo, Portugal (fotw)

A bar running at right angles from the staff from which the flag is partially suspended.

Flag of Rakytne, Ukraine (fotw)

1) Generically a ship whose motive power was principally provided by her oars (see also ‘galley ensign’).
2) Specifically the heraldic term for an oared warship with more than one mast - but see ‘ancient ship’.

galley galley St-Denis, Reunion St-Denis, Reunion Vrhnika, Slovenia
Arms and Flag of Beirut, Lebanon (fotw); Arms and Flag of St-Denis, Reunion (fotw and ICH); Arms of Vrhnika, Slovenia (Željko Heimer)

In largely Mediterranean usage, a distinctive ensign or flag now obsolete, that was specifically flown from a warship whose principal motive power came from her oars rather than her sails (see also ‘ensign’ and ‘galley’).

Galley ensign Galley ensign Galley ensign Galley ensign
Flag of a Galley Captain, Sardinia 18th Century; Ensign of The Commander of Galleys, Pre-Ottoman Tunis: Galley Flag of Livorno, Italy c1600; Galley Ensign of France 18th Century (fotw)

See ‘caltrap’.


The heraldic term for a sheaf of wheat or corn.

Freienwil, Switzerland Sopje, Croatia Flag - Sopje, Croatia Sheaf Steam Shipping, UK 
Flag of Freienwil, Switzerland (fotw); Flag and Arms of Sopje, Croatia (fotw); Flag of the Sheaf Steam Shipping Co., UK (fotw)

See ‘handguard’.

British North Borneo Company
A Gardiamo/Handguard According to Spanish Regulations (Reglamento de Banderas Actualizado)

See ‘guardant’ in ‘Appendix V’.

British North Borneo Company
Badge of the British North Borneo Company 1882-1948

1) In heraldry, a term for a closed or almost closed ring consisting of intertwined leaves, or of leaves and flowers – a chaplet or orle (see also ‘wreath 1)’).
2) On flags as above, but the term is also used to describe an open topped wreath composed of leaves, or of leaves and/or flowers, etc., that does not exceed two-thirds the depth of the object surrounded (for example that on the flag of Parana, Brazil) – or sometimes considerably less – but see ‘crossed branches 1)’ and wreath 1’.

[garland] [garland]
From left: Royal Standard 1961 – 1971, Sierra Leone (fotw); Flag of Parana, Brazil (fotw)

Please note with regard to 1), that the English heraldic requirement of only four flowers per garland is not generally observed in flags.

A Garland in Heraldry According to English Heraldic Practice (Parker)

The heraldic term used when a charge (such as a horn, helmet or mitre etc) is decorated or ornamented with details in another tincture – but see ‘adorned 2)’ (also ‘charge 1)’, ‘barbed’, ‘hafted’, ‘hilted’, ‘shafted’ and ‘tincture’). ).

Martijanec, Croatia Martijanec, Croatia Horn, Netherlands Arms - Granja, Portugal Flag - Granja, Portugal
Flag and Arms of Martijanec, Croatia (fotw); Flag of Horn, Netherlands (fotw); Arms and Flag of Granja, Portugal (Antonio Martins)

In US usage, the largest of the three standard sizes of national flag flown at army and marine corps posts - 20 x 38 feet or 6.1 x 10.9m (see also ‘post flag 1)’, ‘storm flag’ and ‘war flag’).

Please note that the use of standard sizes of flag at army posts is by no means limited to the US (although the names may differ), and that the largest size is the one displayed on days of national celebration and/or service significance, or as otherwise regulated (see also ‘battle ensign’, ‘ceremonial ensign’, ‘holiday colours’ and ‘Sunday ensign’).

The colours introduced by Marcus Garvey in 1917 and designed to represent African-American heritage; they were internationally adopted in 1920 and are now used on several national flags – flags – the black liberation or Afro-American flag or colours - but see ‘pan-African colours’.

Marcus Garvey flag Zambia flag Malawi flag Kenya flag
Marcus Garvey’s Flag 1917 (fotw); National Flag of Zambia(fotw); National Flag of Malawi 1964 – 2010 (fotw); National Flag of Kenya

Please note that some sources include these with the pan-African colours as referenced above.

See 'rainbow flag 1)'.

Gay Pride Flag
A US Gay Pride Flag (Tomislav Todorovic)

See 'cog-wheel'.

Gear-wheel Flag
Flag of The Labour Party, Turkey (fotw)

See 'safe conduct flag 1)'.

Geneva Convention Flag
Flag of the International Red Cross (fotw)

See ‘gyronny’.

Flag of Olivenza, Spain (fotw)

In British RN and some other usage, an unofficial pennant of varying design – now often a defaced version of the starboard pennant in the NATO signalling code – raised when a ship’s officers wish to entertain the officers of another ship or ships (see also ‘pennant 2)’ and ‘senior officer afloat pennant’).

[Gin Pennant]
One version of the gin pennant, UK (CS)

Please note that the above is usually made on board from whatever materials lie to hand, however, the company Gordon’s Gin are known to have supplied a number of commercially produced gin pennants to yachtsmen in the 1950’s.

[commercial Gin Pennant]
Commercially Produced Gin Pennant c1955, UK (CS)

See ‘gyronny’ 

gyronny example gyronny example
Flag of Warfstermolen, The Netherlands (fotw); Flag of Albufeira, Portugal (fotw)

A medieval term, now obsolete, used to describe a small (possibly swallow tailed) flag (see also ‘pennant’ and ‘lance pennon 1)’).

Please note that there is no proven connection between these terms and ‘guidon’, but that the similarity cannot be ignored.

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