Saturday, December 17, 2016

Dr. Whitney Smith

Last Month on November 17, 2016 an American legend in the same league of Betsy Ross passed away, Whitney Smith.  Unlike Betsy Ross whose association with the American flag is unresolved, Whitney Smith was an official creator for a national flag in the Americas.  Betsy Ross's claim that she proposed to General Washington that the stars should have five points, rather than eight, is in dispute.  However, it is a fact that Dr. Whitney Smith was a part of the committee that designed the flag for Guyana.  

In further gratitude from Dr. Whitney Smith, we have the word "vexillology."  Smith coined this unique American word from its Latin word for flag, vexillum. Vexillology recently became popularized due to a segment on CBS's The Big Bang Theory Show, currently the highest rated sitcom on broadcast television.  In a recurring segment, one of the quirky characters, the fictional Dr. Sheldon Cooper played by Jim Parsons, produces a video blog-cast on the subject of vexillology with a program called Fun with Flags with Dr. Sheldon Cooper.  Oddly a show within a show, like the theoretical moon of a moon, Fun with Flags is a skit filled with standard jokes and silly flag giggles. 

It was in 2011 that CBS inserted the word vexillology into American pop-culture.  But vexillology is more than just the study of flags.  Vexillology includes a wide range of topics: including heraldry, badges, medals, totem poles, marks of rank, and preliterate staffs of power. Essentially anything that is a representative icon, whether from ancient Egypt to the modern day logo falls under the umbrella of vexillology.  In many ways vexillology is the real life equivalent to the word, symbology; the fictional subject popularized in Dan Brown's grand conspiracy-educational tourist novels.  Without a doubt the most alluring aspects of vexillology are modern flags.  The majority of papers and persons in this field focus on this area. 

Whitney Smith was born February 26, 1940 and died last month November 17, 2016.  Dr. Smith coined a new word and is the founder of a new discipline intently focused on flags and representative icons: vexillology.  His passion for flags allowed him to become an international star.  So much so, that Whitney's insights were recruited for the design of a nation.  He will be sorely missed by the vexillological community.  An ember of his passion for flags is currently being echoed on The Big Bang Theory television show, during the Fun with Flags vexillology segment.  On a more prestigious note, for the hallowed and perpetual hall of history, Whitney Smith was given an opportunity to shape one of the patriotic contours of a nation in the Americas, the flag for Guyana.     

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