The blazon is the formal description of a coat of arms, in the peculiar language of heraldry. To blazon arms is to describe them in blazon; though to emblazon them is to depict them in colour, as opposed to hatching them (using hatched lines and dots to show colours) and tricking them (using abbreviations to indicate the colours). The elaborate vocabulary of blazon draws heavily from French, but should always be pronounced as English, and not italicized: a lion couchant (= lying down) is KOWTCH-nt, not KOO-shong.

Many objects have special heraldic names, and many have special terms for how to describe their positions or attributes in detail, and many have peculiar and often non-natural methods of depicting, filtered through hundreds of years of mediaeval artistry. The following is a minimal sketch: most of these terms deserve extensive explanation on their own nodes.


The following are the main colours used in heraldry. There are a few more of rare occurrence. The general term is actually tincture, because colour strictly refers to only some of them:

Ordinaries and charges

An ordinary is a simple geometric shape on a shield, while a charge is a depiction of an object. Examples of ordinaries:
  • fess = horizontal stripe
  • pale = vertical stripe
  • bend = diagonal stripe (from upper left)
  • cross = horizontal-vertical cross
  • saltire = X-shaped cross
  • chief = stripe along the top
  • chevron = inverted V-shape coming from below
  • bordure = border following shape of shield
  • roundel = disk
  • billet = vertical block
  • lozenge = diamond
The smaller shapes like the roundel and billet are called sub-ordinaries. Common charges include lions and eagles, roses and oak trees, stars and castles, and so on to almost anything imaginable.

A simple shield is blazoned by naming first the field (background) colour, then the dominant ordinary if one, then charges if any. The colour follows the thing it describes. For example, "Argent, a fess gules" means white (or silver) with a red horizontal stripe. "Argent, a bend gules between two castles sable" means a red diagonal stripe on white, with a black castle in each of the white spaces this forms.

To avoid repeating colour names you say "of the first, of the second" etc. So "Argent, on a bend gules a rose of the first" means there's a white rose on the red diagonal.

Parts of the shield

Dexter means the right for a person holding the shield, but the left for a person looking at it, and likewise sinister means the right of the shield as we see it. So a charge can be dexter or sinister. One in the upper part of the shield is in chief, and in the lower part in base.

"Argent, a chevron vert, in chief two roses gules, in base a lozenge azure": this means the two roses above and the diamond below are put in the most natural arrangement around the V of the chevron. "Azure, a chevron vert, in chief dexter a rose gules, sinister a lozenge azure": now the diamond is in the upper right and there's nothing below.

To show how repeated charges are arranged when it's not obvious, you specify number: "Argent, six roses gules, 3, 2, 1" means 3 in chief, 2 along the fess line, and 1 in base.

The field of a shield can be "party per" (divided along) the direction of an ordinary. So "party per fess" is divided horizontally, "party per bend" is divided diagonally. The ordinary or charge next mentioned goes across the division unless otherwise specified: "Party per fess gules and or, a rose argent". An ordinary counterchanged hasn't got colours of its own but is divided across the field division with the colours swapped: so in "Party per fess gules and or, a lozenge counterchanged", the lozenge is gold on the red upper half and red on the gold lower half.

There are several methods of joining two coats of arms together (such as when a man marries an heiress). To impale them is to place them side by side (along the pale line); to quarter them is to divide the shield in four, with one coat in the first (= dexter chief) and fourth quarters and the other in the other two: quartering lends itself to much greater elaboration as the heiresses amass through the generations. So the Royal Coat of Arms is (in brief) Quarterly 1 and 4 England, 2 Scotland, 3 Ireland.

The partition lines and the edges of ordinaries are normally straight, but can be otherwise, such as wavy, indented (sawtooth), embattled (square-toothed like battlements).


Animals have a whole battery of terms to describe the positions they can be put into. The term goes between the name and the tincture, e.g. a lion rampant gules. Rampant means jumping up (facing dexter), with one paw above the other. Salient has both paws up together. Courant or current is running, passant is walking (one front paw in front of the other), statant is standing (paws together), sejant is sitting on haunches with front paws upright, couchant is lying down with all paws hidden but head alert, dormant is lying down with head curled up asleep.

An animal's head can be separately described: guardant is looking out at the viewer, regardant is looking back behind itself. So the emblems of England are lions passant guardant or.

When the claws and tongue are of a different colour, as is usual, it is termed armed and langued: a lion passant guardant or armed and langued azure.

Most of these specifications can apply to any creature that can be squeezed into them. Other characteristics are specific to one or few animals only. A pelican "in her piety" is depicted in a nest plucking blood from her breast to feed her young. An elephant is usually depicted as an elephant and castle, that is with a tower-like howdah on its back. The creatures heraldry calls dolphins, panthers, tygers, antelopes, and sea horses are monstrous beasts bearing only a passing resemblance to the natural ones.

A plain cross has arms going to the edge of the shield, but there are very many variations describing how the arms end or are shaped.

/msg me if you want any particular term explained, but it'll be in its own node, not here. Or if you think there's something that really must be included in this basic sketch.