Posted by ESC on January 09, 2001
In Reply to: "To Pass with Flying Colours" posted by James Briggs on January 09, 2001
: : Can anyone help me with the the following question? Where might the original flying colours have been seen?
: To come through with flying colours is to successfully achieve a difficult objective, such as passing an exam with distinction. The origin here is clearly military, but which service? Lancers charging? A victory parade through a captured town? In reality it is a victorious fleet sailing into harbour with their flags still flying at their mastheads.
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).