Posted by ESC on October 31, 2000
In Reply to: Etymology of "Pass with flying colors" posted by Monoson on October 31, 2000
: Does anyone know the derivation of the phrase "Pass with flying colors"? Thanks!
FLYING COLORS, WITH - " 'We came off with flying colours.' George Farquar, 'The Beaux's Stratagem . Victorious; extremely successful. 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." From "Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, Ill., 1989, 1999).
A related phrase is:
FALSE COLORS, TO SAIL UNDER - " 'I had so much wisdom as to sail under false colours.' Robert Louis Stevenson, St. Ives . To pretend to have a different view or character so as to deceive; deliberately misrepresent. The term comes from a tactic used by pirates, maritime robbers who roamed the seas and attacked the vessel of all nations. Especially rampant during times of unrest, pirates preyed on commerce from the times of the ancient Phoenicians and Greeks until about 1825, when a concerted effort by the United States and Great Britain finally destroyed their last North African, European, and West Indian strongholds. To deceive the ships they preyed on, pirates would often run a 'friendly' flag - that is, they displayed false colors to fool their victims and lure them close enough to they could be overwhelmed. The term false colors had began to be used figuratively by 1700 or even earlier." From "Fighting Words: From War, Rebellion, and other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, Ill., 1989, 1999).