Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun A national flag displayed on ships and aircraft, often with the special insignia of a branch or unit of the armed forces.
  • noun A standard or banner, as of a military unit.
  • noun A commissioned rank in the US Navy or Coast Guard that is below lieutenant junior grade.
  • noun One who holds this rank.
  • noun A badge, emblem, or token of power or authority.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun The flag or banner distinguishing a company of soldiers, an army, or a vessel; colors; a standard.
  • noun Specifically In Great Britain, a flag composed of a field of white, blue, or red, with the union in the upper corner, next the staff.
  • noun A sign or signal.
  • noun A badge; a mark of distinction, rank, or office; a symbol; in the plural, insignia.
  • noun Name and rank used as a battle-cry or watchword.
  • noun In the British army, until 1871, one of the lowest grade of commissioned officers in a regiment of infantry, the senior of whom carried the ensign or colors of the regiment: now called second lieutenant. (See lieutenant.) The rank of ensign also existed in the American revolutionary army.
  • noun In the United States navy, one of the lowest grade of commissioned officers, ranking with second lieutenant in the army. The title was first introduced in 1862, taking the place of passed midshipman.
  • noun A company of troops led by an ensign.
  • To mark or distinguish by some sign; form the badge of.
  • In heraldry, to distinguish (a charge) by a mark or an ornament, as a crown, coronet, or miter, borne on or over it: as, the heart in the arms of Douglas is ensigned with a royal crown (see the cut)—that is, with a crown borne on the top of it. A staff is sometimes said to be ensigned with a flag.
  • To point out to; signify to.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • noun A flag; a banner; a standard; esp., the national flag, or a banner indicating nationality, carried by a ship or a body of soldiers; -- as distinguished from flags indicating divisions of the army, rank of naval officers, or private signals, and the like.
  • noun A signal displayed like a standard, to give notice.
  • noun Sign; badge of office, rank, or power; symbol.
  • noun Formerly, a commissioned officer of the army who carried the ensign or flag of a company or regiment.
  • noun A commissioned officer of the lowest grade in the navy, corresponding to the grade of second lieutenant in the army.
  • noun one who carries a flag; an ensign.
  • transitive verb obsolete To designate as by an ensign.
  • transitive verb To distinguish by a mark or ornament; esp. (Her.), by a crown.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A badge of office, rank, or power
  • noun The lowest grade of commissioned officer in the United States Navy, junior to a lieutenant junior grade.
  • noun A flag or banner carried by military units. See standard, color, colour.
  • noun nautical The principal flag or banner flown by a ship to indicate nationality.
  • noun A junior commissioned officer in the 18th and 19th Centuries whose duty was to carry the unit's ensign.
  • noun A prominent flag or banner.
  • verb obsolete To designate as by an ensign.
  • verb To distinguish by a mark or ornament
  • verb heraldry To distinguish by an ornament, especially by a crown.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun a person who holds a commissioned rank in the United States Navy or the United States Coast Guard; below lieutenant junior grade
  • noun colors flown by a ship to show its nationality
  • noun an emblem flown as a symbol of nationality

Etymologies

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

[Middle English ensigne, from Old French enseigne, from Latin īnsignia, insignia; see insignia.]

Examples

  • And then he glanced at the men, who were delighted with what they called the ensign's pluck.

    Middy and Ensign

  • June 17th, 2009 2: 52 pm ET by his own declared standard, ensign is supposed to resign the senate seat. a man who betrayed his wife, violated spiritual promise can not be trusted. do you remembe - he called for president clinton's resignation?

    Sen. John Ensign resigns GOP leadership post

  • To make you easy, know I have four thousand pounds in the funds; and that, from the equality of living here, an ensign is obliged to spend near as much as I am; he is inevitably ruined, but I save money.

    The History of Emily Montague

  • Tom paused for a moment, obviously puzzled at the chilly tone that underlined Chakotay’s use of the word ensign.

    Distant Shores

  • Tom paused for a moment, obviously puzzled at the chilly tone that underlined Chakotay’s use of the word ensign.

    Distant Shores

  • Tom paused for a moment, obviously puzzled at the chilly tone that underlined Chakotay’s use of the word ensign.

    Distant Shores

  • I'd always heard that this army rank was called ensign because they carried an ensign.

    languagehat.com: ENSIGN CHEER.

  • Now, negro companies are treated with respect, negro regiments are honored; because we honor the defenders of our national ensign, which is the representative and symbol of our national life.

    The Continental Monthly, Vol. 6, No 2, August, 1864 Devoted to Literature and National Policy

  • "Stand by to catch a line and make fast," called the ensign, as the launch, under headway, lay in close.

    Dave Darrin After The Mine Layers

  • This common loyalty to the Queen and pride in her ensign is a sure guarantee for the continued greatness of our country.

    Memories of Canada and Scotland — Speeches and Verses

Comments

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  • "the lowest grade among the commissioned officers of a company of infantry; the youngest ensign in the regiment supports the colours. Ensign is also a banner or flag." (citation in Historical Military Terms list description)

    October 9, 2008

  • To what end

    These ensigns of your pomp and royalty?

    - John Dryden, 'All for Love'.

    September 20, 2009