Nail Your Colours to the mast

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Nail Your Colours to the mast : Phrases


To display one's opinions and beliefs. Also used to mean to show one's intention to hold on to those beliefs until the end.



In nautical battles colours (flags) were lowered as a mark of submission. Nailing your colours to the mast meant you weren't intending to submit.

It is correct to use the English spelling, rather the the US 'nail one's colors to the mast', as the phrase originated in England. The practise is alluded to in Sir Nicholas Harris Nicolas' The Dispatches and Letters of Lord Nelson, 1845:

"Half past 6, shot away the main and mizen-masts: saw a man nail the French ensign to the stump of the mizen-mast."

The first record of the phrase in print is from that inveterate coiner of phrases - Sir Walter Scott, in Marmion, 1808:

"Record, that Fox a Briton died... Stood for his country's glory fast, And nailed her colours to the mast."
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