In 1797, "The Original Fanology," created by Charles Francis Badini, was published by William Cock in London describing the the secret language surreptitiously used by women with their fans, but these men were definitely late to the game.
Beginning in the 16th century, women with limited free speech began using their fans to communicate their desires to each other and would-be suitors who were hip to the wrist-flicking lingo. The variety of responses the hand-held air conditioning provided is truly remarkable.
Women, generally, could not attend public functions unchaperoned. They were expected to interact almost solely with other women. On the rare occasion of a public dance, the litany of behavioral taboos between the sexes were, to say the least, incredibly restrictive.
Eye contact, how long a man and woman face each other, proper and improper glove removal, and a hundred other things on the list of highly watched and overly scandalized moments of exchange could cripple a burgeoning romance, but salvation was at hand.
The fan, the popular accessory Europeans had adopted from Asia by way of the Venetians, became a delicate Morse code for stymied young women. The practice continued into the Victorian Era, but there are even now, those enthusiasts hoping for a revival.
Here is an incomplete, yet impressive list communications hand-fans once provided:
To hold it in the left ear.
I want you to leave me alone.
To let slide it on the forehead.
You have changed.
To move it with the left hand.
They are watching us.
To change it to the right hand.
You are imprudent.
To throw the fan.
I hate you.
To move it with the right hand.
I love another.
To let slide it on the cheek.
I want you.
To hold it closed.
Do you love me?
To let slide it on the eyes.
Go away, please.
To touch the edge of the hand fan with the fingers.
I want to talk to you.
To hold it on the right cheek.
To hold it on the left cheek.
To open and close it.
You are cruel.
To leave it hanging.
We will continue being friends.
To fan slowly.
I am married.
To fan quickly.
I am engaged.
To hold the fan in the lips.
To open it slowly.
Wait for me.
To open the hand fan with the left hand.
Come and talk to me.
To strike it, closed, on the left hand.
To semi-close it in the right and on the left.
To hold it opened, covering the mouth.
I am single.
So the next time you’re out and you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all! Take a tip from the 16th century and let your hands do the talking. Whether you’re in a well-appointed ballroom, at an afternoon tea or maybe just in a noisy club, keep cool, and don’t forget your fan!