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Why are the colours flying in the idiom “to do something with flying colours”?
I keep replying to your email, but you don't seem to get it.
August 10, 2004, 7:04am
The saying is "to pass with flying colours", i.e. in reference to passing an exam or test. My instinctive guess would be that it is something to do with flags.
August 10, 2004, 7:10am
Dave, you're right. The "colors" are flags, and a ship from one country that emerged victorious in a sea battle with a ship from another country would have its own colors "flying." The colors of the losing ship would have been confiscated by the winner. Or so I understand.
August 11, 2004, 2:28pm
I like Speedwell's explanation. In that case an exam is like a battle, if we win (pass) it we have our colours (flags) flying, if we don't we end up as losers.
August 18, 2004, 6:51am
Found this today. It's interesting, and it contains a first use of the phrase. I should mention that "colors" is, if I'm not mistaken, the official british and American Navy word for the flags.
August 18, 2004, 1:25pm
Ah. Sorry. Eating popcorn on my lunch hour. :) Here's the link.
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