The phrase pass with flying colors is an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, on the ball, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom as pass with flying colors, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
To pass with flying colors means to be extremely successful, to achieve something that is difficult, to excel. The phrase is also sometimes rendered as come through with flying colors or come off with flying colors. The idiom to pass with flying colors is taken from a nautical custom. The colors of a ship are its flags. A victorious ship or one that has been successful in trade would enter harbor with its flags fully unfurled, and pass with flying colors. A vanquished ship or one that has been unsuccessful would strike its colors, or take down its flags. The term flying colors has been in use since the early 1700s to mean achieving some sort of triumph, and the idiom pass with flying colors had been in use since the latter 1800s. Related phrases are passes with flying colors, passed with flying colors, passing with flying colors.
The opposition will try to delay the passing of the bill but it would likely pass with flying colors because the ruling coalition still has the majority.” (Bloomberg News)
Here’s my hard-earned advice so your car can, hopefully, pass with flying colors. (USA Today)
Tasha was trained in air-scent detection, for example, but did not pass with flying colors on the first go — the winds were strong and upwind of the “victim” she was supposed to detect. (The Montrose Press)
The latest round of tests concluded last week, and virtually all the big Wall Street players passed with flying colors. (The Week Magazine)