The Language of the Hand Fan


In the past, hand fans were used not only as cooling instruments, but also as convenient communication devices, mainly for transmitting more or less furtive love messages.

A language of the fan, which is today completely forgotten, was widely used. For your amusement we have recovered a set of messages pertaining to this language, which we include here:

The lady appears briefly at the balcony, slowly fanning herself, and returns inside, shutting the balcony:

"I can’t go out"

If she appears briefly at the balcony, excitedly fanning herself, and quickly goes inside, leaving the balcony open:

"I’ll go out soon"

Resting the fan on her lips:

"I don’t trust you"

The lady fans herself with her left hand:

"Don’t flirt with that woman"

Running her fingers through the fan’s ribs:

"I want to talk to you"

Slowly fanning herself :

"Don’t waste your time, I don’t care about you"

Quickly fanning herself:

"I love you so much"

Moving her hair away from her forehead:

"Don’t forget me"

Passing the fan from hand to hand:

"I see that you are looking at another woman"

Hitting her hand’s palm:

"Love me"

Carrying the fan closed and hanging from her left hand:

"I’m engaged"

Carrying the fan closed and hanging from her right hand:

"I want to be engaged"

Quickly and impetuously closing the fan:

"I’m jealous"

Dropping the fan:

"I belong to you"

Resting the fan on her heart:

"My love for you is breaking my heart"

Half-opening the fan over her face:

"We are being watched"

Hitting any object:

"I’m impatient"

Hiding the sunlight:

"You’re ugly"

Looking closely at the painting:

"I like you"


Image on top of page: The Lady with the Veil (Portrait of the Artist's wife) (1768). Painting by Alexander Roslin (1718 - 1793). Oil on canvas, 65 x 54 cm., National Museum, Stockholm.