Does a Flag Fly at Half-Staff or Half-Mast?
I've primarily heard "flying a flag at half-staff," I wasn't certain of the
reasons for using either term with the American flag. So I put a little
research time into this. One of the first things I found was a good article
dealing with this exact question from a Canadian perspective.
The US Flag Code
TITLE 4 > CHAPTER 1 > Sec. 7. "Position
and manner of display" consistently uses the phrase "half-staff" throughout
subsection (m) including "(m)(1) the term ''half-staff'' means
the position of the flag when it is one-half the distance between the
top and bottom of the staff;"
search of the whitehouse.gov website shows consistent use of
the phrase "Half-staff" and no use of "half-mast"
There is one example in a recent
White House press release related to an Executive Order on when to fly the flag at half-staff.
On the other hand, both dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster online defer
any definition of "half-staff" & instead list "see
half-mast." Definitions for half-mast from those 2 sources:
The position about halfway up a mast or pole at which a flag is flown
as a symbol of mourning for the dead or as a signal of distress. Also
a point some distance but not necessarily halfway down below the top
of a mast or staff or the peak of a gaff"
Neither definition makes any reference to the use of half-mast as a
The North American Vexillological
Association primarily uses "half-staff" but
does not address your issue when answering
a question that used the term "half-mast."
In summary, while I have been unable to find a source to back up the
CBC article's comment "...halfstaff is acknowledged as the official
expression in the United States," anecdotal evidence for American
use of "half-staff" is overwhelming when used in the context
of lowering old Glory in respect for the dead. That being said, I would
not be personally offended by anyone using "halfmast" in
this context as it does not appear to be an issue of disrespect.
While we simply cannot respond personally to every inquiry, we'll try
to add the most common questions and answers here. If you have suggestions,
comments or questions for us, we'd appreciate your dropping us a note
by clicking here.
If you'd like to spread the word and help others find USA Flag Site, you can link to us from your web site.