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Why are the colours flying in the idiom “to do something with flying colours”?
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I keep replying to your email, but you don't seem to get it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ah. Sorry. Eating popcorn on my lunch hour. :) Here's the link.
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