Ships ahoy!

Today is Flag Day, a U.S. holiday celebrated every June 14 to commemorate the ​adoption of the American flag in 1777​. Not to put a downer on today, but this week we’re discussing the terms to use when you see a flag flying only halfway up a flagpole, such as after the death of a president.

Flying flags half-staff or half-mast is a symbol of mourning, and you might see the terms used interchangeably. But are they?

Technically, no. Use “half-staff” for flags on land, and reserve “half-mast” for flags on ships or at naval installations.

Hyphenate "half-staff" when writing about flags on land that are flown only halfway up the flagpole: "White House flags flew at half-staff as a symbol of mourning." Although the terms are often used interchangeably, reserve "half-mast" for flags on ships or at naval installations.

And if you’re really into rules, the ​U.S. Flag Code​ has stipulations for exactly when and how long the American flag should be flown at half-staff after the death of certain government officials. For the death of a former or current president, for example, the flag should be flown at half-staff for 30 days. For a former or current vice president, it’s 10 days.

The flag is also supposed to be flown at half-staff until noon on Memorial Day before being raised to the top of the flagpole.

Happy Flag Day!

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