Let Your Freak Flag Fly!


“Some of the times you just gotta let your freak flag fly,” my aunt said to her brother. My aunt wanted to be younger and hipper her whole life. She knew the Billboard top 100 far better than I did, she wore clothing better suited to younger girls, and she said catch phrases like this one all the time. This was the first time I heard that phrase, however, and even though it involved my aunt’s embarrassing attempt to appear hip, the line stuck with me. A short time later, I heard someone on a top-rated television show say it, then one of my friends said it in school, and a week later I began hearing it everywhere.

Freak Flag

“Where did you hear that phrase?” I asked my friend from school.

“Dude, I don’t know. I’ve been saying it for decades,” he said. That response appears to be the key to keeping it cool in the phraseology universe, for no one ever seems to know where they heard it first. Either they truly don’t remember where they first heard it, they don’t care, or they want us to think they started it.

There’s apparently a lot of prestige wrapped up in starting a phrase, and if someone gets a taste of it, they don’t give it up willingly. Whatever the case is, when the curious pursue such a matter, we receive evasive and defensive responses. Even if they just started saying the phrase last February, they want us to think they’ve been saying it for decades, or they dismiss further intrigue on this issue as uncool.

If we found a truly reflective individual who could remember the first time they heard the phrase, it might result in a response to our question as humdrum as, “I think my Cousin Ralphie is cool as hell, and when I heard him say it I wanted his cool all over me.” If this individual were that honest, they might run the risk of being so over as to be drummed out of the in-crowd, for the clique might deem that confession a violation of the binary, unspoken agreement those in the in-crowd have designed for the world of phraseology. In this world, all users want their audience to consider them the originator of the phrase, and anyone who insists on pursuing this line of interrogation runs the risk of being drummed out on an “If you have to ask …” basis.

Another unspoken rule to the use of catch phrases, among the in-crowd, is that we better hurry up and use them as often as possible, before a cool cat steps in to declare that the days of using the phrase are now over. “Stop saying that. I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” We might be disappointed to learn that we are no longer able to use words, phrases, or idioms that we enjoy using, but we know that when cool people step in to warn us that it’s over, it’s a serious blow in the world of phraseology. We also know that by continuing to use such a phrase, we run the risk of being so over. This begs a question of the arbiters of language who purport that they’ve been saying this for decades, how is it that you haven’t encountered someone who declared it so over in that time span? Did you ignore them, and if you did, why should I listen to you?

A work associate of mine attempted to play the role of the foil in this manner by correcting me in front of a group of people. “Dude, stop saying that,” he said mimicking the phrase to end phrases. “I’m trying to get the word out that that phrase is over. Tell your friends.” Anytime we hear someone issue such a condemnation, we assume it’s rooted in something our friend learned from a person with some authority on the matter. In my experience, however, most of these self-professed arbiters of language consider starting a hip phrase fine but ending one divine. Thus, those with no standing in this hierarchy of cool often take it upon themselves to issue such a condemnation without knowing anything more on the matter than anyone else, but they hope that by pushing others down they might improve their standing in this hierarchy.

Like most of those in the lowest stratum of this hierarchy, I knew nothing about this confusing world of using hip, insider, cool cat language, so I was in no position to question my work associate, but by my calculations this fella was a doofus. He was such a complete doofus that I would no sooner consider advice from him on language than I would tips he offered on making friends or dating more women. I still don’t know if this fella assumed a level of authority on this matter based on the idea that he considered me inferior, of if he heard this news from a more authoritative figure, but I decided not to give him a seat on my personal arbitration board. The situation did lead me to wonder how we determine our arbiters of words and phrases. My guess is that most people will not heed such advice from just anyone, as that might reveal their status in this hierarchy. My guess is that we make discerning choices based on superficial, bullet point requirements we have for those issuing them? Put another way, if my work associate was more attractive, less chubby, and he wasn’t such a doofus, I may have been more amenable to his guidance.

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For fact checkers, a Google.com search returns that the first time “Let your freak flag fly” was used in public, occurred in a David Crosby song “Almost Cut my Hair” that he wrote for the Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young album Déjà vu. We can venture a guess, however, that that phrase may have made its way through the “in-crowd” circuit long before Crosby used it in the song.

The Urban Dictionary defines “Letting Your Freak Flag Fly” as: “A characteristic, mannerism, or appearance of a person, either subtle or overt, which implies unique, eccentric, creative, adventurous or unconventional thinking.” 2) “Letting loose, being down with one’s cool self, preferred usage to occur in front of a group of strangers. Your inner freak that wants to come out, but often is suppressed by social anxiety.” 3) Unrestrained, unorthodox or unconventional in thinking, behavior, manners, etc. One who espouses radical, nonconformist or dissenting views and opinions that are outside the mainstream. When traveling through the bible belt of the U.S., it’s best not to let your freak flag fly high. Otherwise, you’ll be harassed and attacked by these backwater, backward thinking theocrats.

Typical, political, Freak Flag Flyers have made very specific choices to avoid the title: backward thinking theocrat. They tend to be high-minded individuals who think they fly high over those of us who believe in nouns (i.e. people, places, and things). Freak Flag Flyers tend to know more about these nouns than the average person, “because those people haven’t done their homework”. Some Freak Flag Flyers base their outlier status on anecdotal information about the actions of those nouns to whom others swear allegiance, and if the “others” knew what Freak Flag Flyers know, they would be just as sophisticated in their skeptical approach to allegiances as Freak Flag Flyers are.

Most people fly under a flag: Americans fly under the Stars and Stripes; the Irish fly under the Irish tricolor; and the British fly under the Union Jack. There are some people, however, who fly under no flag, and they provide this information to anyone who asks, and some who don’t. Don’t expect them to admit to flying under a freak flag however, for the very essence of flying under a freak flag is designed to give its flyer an open-ended, free lifestyle persona that doesn’t conform to societal definitions such as identity or allegiance … Even if such a definition extends itself to a freak flag. They aren’t proud members of a country, political party, or a coalition of freaks. They’re just Tony, and any attempt you make to define them as anything but –based upon the things they do and say– will say more about you, their interrogator, and your need for definition, than it does them. Freak Flag Flyers tend to be moral relativists who ascribe to “some” libertarian principles when those political policies adhere to principles they find pleasing –those that suggest as Dave Mason did, “There ain’t no good guy, there ain’t no bad guy. There’s only you and me and we just disagree”- but they tend to distance themselves from the libertarian ideals of limited government when it involves fiscal matters, for that might result in too much libertarianism.

Some Freak Flag Flyers raise their flags in political milieus, but most freak flags involve simple eccentricities and peculiarities. An individual who prefers to listen to difficult and complicated music, for example, could be said to have a freak flag that they keep close to their vest when their more normal family and friends are around. An individual who enjoys various concoctions of food, philosophies, and other assorted, entertainment mediums could be said to have a freak flag, and most of these people live otherwise normal lives. Every person can have a freak flag without being a freak, in other words, but the general term freak flag is reserved for those with exaggerated preferences and activities that could provide life-altering embarrassment if it made its way out to their more normal friends and family members.

Most of us have never had a mohawk, for instance, but we can identify with the mindset of the individual who “dared to be different” at some point in their lives with the haircut. We might even go so far as to dismiss our own desires for freak flag definitions, or we may be embarrassed that we ever strove for such definition, now that we’re more normal, but most of us recall a day when we dared to be different. We may not have a name that sounds like a square peg in a round hole society, such as Todd. We may have a name that sounds more pleasing to the ear, but some part of our personality can identify with their outlier status in some way. We may not be an adult baby, we may not strive to be esoteric in our preferences, but we all have some sort of freak flag that we stand behind to separate us from the rest of the pack. Some of us are just a little more diligent in our efforts.

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10 thoughts on “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!

  1. never been normal, never tried to be & never wanted to be. but i still cant figure out the origin of this phrase. & i am sure there *is* an origin, & it is not one that is, or was, completely unknown. it predates me, it’s more of my parents’ generation. otoh & even though this is the most comprehensive contemplation i’ve yet found, it needs further research & that research needs to be done not in the new & overarching, overbearing aboveground realm but in the archives of the long lost [& probably unsorted, uncatalogued &, thereby & therefore, unreachable] notes from the publications of the underground. ie: i would try paul krasner or tuli kupferberg, hopefully spelled correctly, & what they were saying & reading before anything easily available, down to & including rolling stone.

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  2. Thank you for your comment Dingy Dust. I have been chastized by the freak flag community for not being natural. “You can’t try to be a freak,” those that cling to their flags, and their separation, insist. It has to be organic and fundamental to your being. “You can’t dance in the shadows. You have to be a shadow.” Or something like that. I could’ve been depressed by these people kicking me out of their club, but I’ve found that the truly, fundamentally weird people have some flaw in their constitution that saddens them. If anyone has attached the freak flag to me in anyway, they’ve almost always said it is a fun, entertaining flag that I fly. Anyway, I thank you for your unique take on this matter, and I hope you enjoy some of the other “contemplations” I have on the people that surround me. Let me know if you want some recommendations that I’ve written that I think you might enjoy based on your “abbie normal” mindset. We abbie normals need to stick together.

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      • Nice turn of a phrase Kat. The whimsical question I would ask is where does one fly a freak flag fly? Should it fly high, and if so why? Is it out of pride, is it to create an impression, or is all of that inconsequential blather, and the only thing that matters is that you’re flying a freak flag, and it makes you happy? Thanks for reading Kat. I hope you’ve enjoyed my explorations into the human mind and the human condition.

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  3. rilaly, I enjoyed your musings on this freaky phrase. When I was a teenager in the 1970’s I dreamed of being a hippy when I grew up. But alas, that era had passed, I was just sniffing the residue. One of the phrases I remember was, “Freaky man!” This generally meant that something was not what one would normally expect. Those kinds of experiences seemed to occur quite often with the crowd I hung around with. The word “man” as used here was just added on to mean … uhh… I think it was just added on to the end any statement to indicate that whatever was just said was intended for the person listening, whether a woman or a man. Both phrases: “Let your freak flag fly” and “Freaky man!” speak to something out-of-the-ordinary, I expect that they are linguistically attached. And let’s not forget the the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers man.

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    • I must confess I’ve never heard the phrase: “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers man.” I know how much the “History of my writing” stories bore people. Writers love it. Readers hate it, but I’ll take your compliment as an opportunity to launch. (Skip this if you’re already bored.) This piece began as a much more personal history on idioms and phrases, and how my friends and I progressed (or evolved) from one cool phrase to another in the 80’s. That piece was a blast to write, and I think my buddies would’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, but few outside that inner realm would’ve known what the hell I was talking about. Various editions of it, led me to believe that a hybrid would work, until I arrived at an impersonal, professorial approach that would not only remove the regional aspect of it, but broaden the scope in a manner that more people could enjoy. My instincts proved correct, as this has proved to be one of my most popular pieces, and I accomplished that without sacrificing the material. I would love to read about your progression from “freaky man” to “Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers man”, however. I’ve never heard the latter,and I would love to hear how a cool kid managed to work that phrase into a cool kid context that caused it to transcend to his fellow cool kids. Thanks for reading Freaky Man.

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  4. I just wanted to say I absolutely hate this phrase about the freak flag… it seems disordered and wrong. What type of person wants to be a freak? honestly… someone with a mental disorder at best and no shame at worst. Please stop saying this. We need order and freaks cant be part of that. If you would like to be one for instance a guy with a mohawk or a girl who shaves all of her head. These things are subcultures which are actually quite popular so technically the people who call themselves freaks are relatively normal… however it is a normal that is a disgrace. my solution to anyone who calls themselves this imbecilic name is to do one thing and that is to move to California and then lobby for California to secede because nobody wants you! except maybe Northern California….

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    • I said two sentences to my cousin’s girlfriend. She said, “I hate opinionated people!” It was the first time we met. “You can disagree with my opinion,” I said, “but what’s the opposite of being opinionated? I say boring, but that’s just me I guess.” Thank you for replying Tony, I found your post colorful and entertaining. If you would like to explore my thoughts on your mohawk comment, read https://rilaly.com/2012/05/12/he-used-to-have-a-mohawk/ I hope it provokes another colorful comment from you.

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