Professional Style

Half-mast vs. Half-staff

December 2014
Spot the Error

While driving past Jefferson Library, Cindy noticed that the flag was flying at half-mast, and she wondered who had died.

Unless the library’s flagpole is on a ship, the correct term is half-staff. Half-mast is the exclusive domain of ships and naval stations. Ships fly their flags at half-mast in times of distress or mourning. Half-staff is used when referring to a flagpole on land … at least in the United States. In Canada and England, they don’t make the distinction. They simply use half-mast. To-MAY-toh, to-MAH-toh.

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