Run It Up the Flagpole — Meaning, Uses, Examples and Origin

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Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Run it up the flagpole is an idiom that suggests trying out or presenting an idea or plan to see how it is received or what kind of feedback it garners. It implies seeking opinions or reactions before making a final decision. 

Idioms like run it up the flagpole are phrases that carry a figurative meaning different from their literal interpretation. They are essential to learn and recognize to help master the nuances of the English language. 

This article explains its literal and figurative meanings, origins, synonyms, and usage through various examples. I also included a quick quiz at the end to test your grasp of this idiom. So keep reading to fully understand what run it up the flagpole means and how you can apply it to your material. 

Run It Up the Flagpole — Meaning Uses Examples and Origin 1

What Does the Idiom Run It Up the Flagpole Mean?

Run it up the flagpole is the first half of a longer idiom—run it up the flagpole and see who salutes it. The original expression refers to the context of brainstorming ideas and making suggestions to see who likes it. 

The shortened version is used in the same manner. It means to float an idea and see what the reaction is or to try something out and see how it works. It emphasizes the act of seeking input or testing the feasibility of an idea before moving forward with it.

Collins Dictionary defines the idiom run it up the flagpole as “to suggest a new idea to people in order to find out what they think of it.”

Literal Meaning

The literal meaning of run it up the flagpole is to raise a flag upon a flagpole. The visual aspect of the idiom is to see how many people pay attention to this act as if it were the American Flag being raised above their heads. 

Figurative Meaning

The figurative meaning of running it up the flagpole is presenting an idea, proposal, or concept to see what kind of response or feedback it receives. If it gets a lot of attention, the idea is a winner and worth moving forward with.

Variations of Run It Up the Flagpole

Here are some variations of the idiom run it up the flagpole:

  • Let’s run this idea up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it.
  • They decided to run their new proposal up the flagpole at the meeting.
  • Running the plan up the flagpole garnered some interesting reactions.
  • Just run your thoughts up the flagpole and observe the response.
  • Why don’t we run the concept up the flagpole during the next brainstorming session?

How Is Run It Up the Flagpole Commonly Used in Context?

If you need help with how to use the expression, consider the following examples of usage to help you understand how it fits into the context of a sentence. 

What Are the Different Ways to Use Run It Up the Flagpole?

The idiom run it up the flagpole can be used in various ways, often depending on the context. Here are some examples:

  • Proposing an idea: “I have this new marketing strategy. Let’s run it up the flagpole at the next meeting and see what the team thinks.”
  • Testing a concept: “Why don’t we run this new app design up the flagpole with a few focus groups before we launch it?”
  • Suggesting a plan: “We could try implementing flextime for employees. We could run it up the flagpole with management and see their reaction.”
  • Seeking feedback: “I’m not sure about the layout for the website. Let’s run it up the flagpole and see what our users think.”
  • As a question: “Should we run this new policy up the flagpole before rolling it out company-wide?”

Where Can You Find Examples of Run It Up the Flagpole?

The idiom run something up the flagpole is often used in various contexts, from movies to publications. Here are some examples:

  • Movies: In the film “12 Angry Men” (1957), the phrase is used during the intense jury deliberations to suggest giving a new idea a chance.
  • Business meetings: The phrase is commonly used in the corporate world during brainstorming sessions or meetings to suggest testing a new idea or strategy.
  • Public speeches: Many famous speakers, including politicians and motivational speakers, use this phrase to suggest trying out a new policy or idea.
  • Publications: This idiom is also used in magazines and news.
  • “But the individuals involved have done some innovative things in Salem, so they deserve the chance to run it up the flagpole.” (The Salem News)
  • If someone really believes in something, then let ’em run it up the flagpole and see what happens. (Billboard Magazine)

What Are Some Tips for Using Run It Up the Flagpole Effectively?

Here are some tips for using run it up the flagpole effectively:

  • Context: Use it when you suggest a new idea or plan that needs feedback or testing.
  • Audience: Ensure your audience is familiar with English idioms, as the phrase might not translate well in other languages or cultures.
  • Tone: The idiom is somewhat informal, so it’s best suited for casual or professional conversational contexts rather than formal writing.
  • Clarity: As with all idioms, make sure its use doesn’t lead to confusion. If necessary, elaborate to ensure your audience understands your proposal to test a new idea or concept. 

What Is the Origin of the Idiom Run It Up the Flagpole?

Run It Up the Flagpole vs. Run Up the Flagpole Ngram
Run it up the flagpole and run up the flagpole usage trend.

The phrase run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes is credited to the advertising world of Madison Avenue in the 1950s. The idea behind it was when the American flag is raised on the flagpole, it garners the attention of the people around it, who stop and salute. 

Using the idiom infers that if the ideas behind the advertisement are any good, it will immediately get people’s attention and will be worth publishing. 

Its first documented use is in the 1957 film “12 Angry Men” by an advertising executive in the role of a juror during a high-profile case. 

Like, some account exec will get up, and he’ll say: ‘OK, here’s an idea. Let’s… run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes it.’ I mean, it’s idiotic, but it’s funny.”

Shortly after the film’s release, the phrase is used in various newspaper columns, including in The New York Times, November 14, 1957, on page 67:

We suggest you run it up the flagpole, spread it on the cat (or better yet, read it) by tomorrow at the latest.

How Did the Idiom Evolve Over Time?

The expression is not very old and originated as a metaphorical use rather than a literal one. Its original context, to draw attention to something to garner a response in the advertising world prior to publication, is still how it is used today. 

The lengthy phrase it started as has been shortened. But both versions are still in circulation within the advertising world, and the general public is familiar with its use. 

What Are Some Related Terms to Run It Up the Flagpole?

We’ve listed the common synonyms, antonyms, and other phrases that can help you better understand the use of the idiom run it up the flagpole

Run It Up the Flagpole — Meaning Uses Examples and Origin 2


These expressions convey the idea of presenting an idea or proposal to others for their feedback or evaluation:

  • Test the waters
  • Float the idea
  • Gauge the response
  • Put it to the test
  • Try it out
  • See how it flies
  • Pitch the concept
  • Get a pulse on it
  • Solicit opinions
  • Run it by someone 
  • Put it on the table

Related Terms and Phrases

Here are some related terms and phrases that share a contextual or semantic relationship with the idiom:

  • Test the idea
  • Present for feedback
  • Seek opinions
  • Evaluate the concept
  • Solicit input
  • Gauge reactions
  • Trial run
  • Conduct a pilot
  • Probe for reactions
  • Assess the proposal
  • Validate the idea
  • Obtain feedback
  • Measure response
  • Trial and error
  • Assay the concept


These antonyms suggest a lack of openness, collaboration, or consideration for others’ opinions and feedback:

  • Keep it under wraps
  • Keep it to oneself
  • Hold back
  • Behind closed doors
  • Withhold from public scrutiny
  • Skip evaluation 
  • Disregard input
  • Forego validation

Misinterpretations and Misuses of Run It Up the Flagpole

It’s essential to be aware of these potential misinterpretations when using or referring to this idiom to ensure effective communication and avoid confusion.

  • Literal flagpole interpretation: Taking the phrase literally could lead to the misunderstanding that someone is being asked to physically raise an object, such as a flag, up a flagpole.
  • Associating with patriotism: Some individuals might misinterpret the idiom by associating it solely with testing a concept or idea’s alignment with national values or sentiments.
  • Exclusive flagpole reference: Interpreting the idiom too narrowly might lead to assuming it only applies to situations involving flagpoles or flag-related matters.
Run It Up the Flagpole: Test Your Knowledge!

Run It Up the Flagpole: Test Your Knowledge!

Choose the correct answer.

Can “run it up the flagpole” be used only in formal settings?
When should you use “run it up the flagpole” in conversation or writing?
Which of the following is a synonym for “run it up the flagpole”?
What does the idiom “run it up the flagpole” mean?
Where does the idiom “run it up the flagpole” come from?
Start Over

Let’s Review

Run it up the flagpole adds a rich, figurative layer to our language, allowing us to express the notion of testing an idea for feedback concisely and engagingly. Coined by American advertising executives in the mid-19th century, the idiom is an allusion to raising the American flag upon a flagpole; the assumption is that if one respects it, one will salute it. 

The expression made its way into everyday speech through a popular movie at the time. Its definition was consistently reiterated in various newspapers after the film’s debut. Today, the saying might not be quite as popular as it once was, but its use still exists.