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Does it mean "a warning sign"? "The economy slows as consumer spending, which makes up the majority of U.S. economic growth, flags." Source: http://money.cnn.com/2017/10/19/news/economy/inflation-economy-mystery/index.html?iid=SF_LN

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No, "flag" in that situation means "to lose vigor or strength; to weaken or to diminish". The consumer spending is flagging, so it's diminishing. For example:

"Our conversation began to flag as the hours went by."

This means that our conversation began to lose its strength or diminish; we weren't talking so much in the sixth hour as we were in the first hour.

NOTE: This use of "flag" as a verb, which has an etymology different from the word "flag" like the "American flag", is fairly uncommon. You will almost never see or hear it used except maybe on TV news channels like CNN or in formally-written material; no one says it in conversation; at least, I can't remember hearing it. I know its meaning only because I've read it in books, newspapers, and magazines before. I have heard it used as an adjective before in the phrase "a flagging economy".

  • +1 It does have a different etymology to the noun flag. It originates from the old French verb flaquier - to become flaccid. The French word for "a flag" is quite different - drapeau. However the OED's etymologists would seem to suggest that the noun "flag" has had some part to play in the verb's adoption into English. Etymology: ? < flag adj.; compare Old French flaquir to become flaccid. But probably there is a mixture with an onomatopoeic formation, expressing the same notion as flap, flack, but implying less energetic movement. I wouldn't have said it was anywhere near obsolete. – WS2 Oct 22 '17 at 15:46
  • I didn't say it was anything near obsolete; I basically said that if I heard someone use that once in a conversation other than as an adjective in the phrase "flagging economy", I'd be surprised. Now, I'd expect it heard on CNN as I know CNN loves "wonky words", but I'm not a wonk and my words aren't feeble or unstable! – Nick Oct 22 '17 at 16:03

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