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With flying colors?

[ 2009-05-14 09:47]     字号 [] [] []  
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Reader's question:

She passed the test with flying colors.What does "with flying colors"mean?

The other day a reader wrote in asking for the phrase “with flying colors” to be clarified.

Briefly to pass with – or to come through with - flying colors is to successfully achieve something difficult, e.g. passing a test, “she passed the test with flying colors”.

To trace the meaning I conducted a brief google search typing in “flying colours” as the search term, (nb British English spelling).

The fourteenth found item brought me up to a website called the ‘phrase finder’ @ www.phrases.org.uk and once here I knew I had come to the right place.

This website reveals the origin of the term dates back three centuries referencing "Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer, 1999 as the source of its information.

From the latter text comes the quote,

“The term comes from the practice of a victorious fleet sailing into port with flags flying from all the mastheads. By 1700 or so it was being used figuratively, signifying any kind of triumph."

So as we can see here the practice derives from earlier times, times of conflict and European colonialism.

Imagine being at a coastal city at Portsmouth in the UK or another famous harbor where in times past big battle ships would pull into dock and after a successful fight they would be resplendent with color and flags blowing in the breeze.

Quite a spectacle and obviously easy to transpose such an image and phrase onto other difficult quests that if passed conjure up feelings of goodwill.

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About the author:

With flying colors?

About the author: Brendan has taught at universities, high schools and primary schools in Japan,the UK, Australia and China. He is a Qualified Education Agent Counsellor and has extensive experience with International English Language Examinations. In the field of writing Brendan has been published in The Bangkok Post, The Taipei Times, Inflight magazines and the Asia News Network. He can be contacted at brendanjohnworrell@hotmail.com.