The Language of the Fan

While walking in a hot, summer daze this past week in Virginia, I stumbled upon something that reminded me of historical-set books.


In an outdoor market smack in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg, I noticed someone holding the above fan and immediately pulled my daughter through the crowd in search of my very own. The cutouts of the wooden blades provide a delicate look that reminds me of walking through the streets wearing…well…colonial dress. Needless to say, I was much appreciative of my shorts and tank top verses the long gown and petticoat of the women who worked there and dressed in traditional colonial fashion.

Today, we don’t have the same level of appreciation for the hand-held fan as our ancestors did. I remember making paper fans as a kid and buying them for souvenirs on field trips. For me, fans come in the form like the one that’s plugged in under the desk in my office or in the center of the ceiling in most of the rooms of my house. But this little wooden hand fan came in handy throughout the humid day in Williamsburg! Of course, nothing beat the battery-operated fan that also sprayed water that was available for purchase at Busch Gardens.

Next to the hand fan was a paper that contained “The Language of the Fan”. My daughter and I had fun reading through the different ways of holding a fan and practicing the moves. While my historical writer friends may be familiar with this, I was not and thought it would be fun to share.

The Language of the Fan

I desire your acquaintance Carry fan in left hand in front of face
I wish to speak with you Close the fan
Follow me Carry fan in right hand in front of face
Wait for me Open fan wide
You are too willing Carry fan in right hand
Kiss me Hold handle to lips
We are watched Twirl fan in left hand
Yes Rest fan on right cheek
No Rest fan on left cheek
I love another Twirl fan in right hand
I wish to get rid of you Place fan on left ear
I am sorry Draw fan across eyes
I am engaged Fan very quickly
I am married Fan slowly
We will be friends Drop the fan

As you head out to vacation this summer, what things have you seen that cause you to be grateful for living in this century? What modern day convenience could you not live without? If you could live in another time period, when would it be?


Leave a comment


  1. Jenna Blue

     /  July 8, 2013

    Maria, my goodness, who knew? It’s a good thing I’m not required to send signals via fan, I’d be lost! ; ) Actually though, I have always desired to see Colonial America (and the years prior) as it really was. Diana Gabaldon and Sara Donati both paint such a lush picture of the country and the amazing people that founded our nation…course I wouldn’t mind Medieval Scotland either where the woman were saucy and the men bold and there were less restrictions! ; )
    Hope you had a great trip!

    • Hi, Jenna.There are so many wonderful parts of our country that we don’t appreciate. Even Williamsburg has become commercial, wanting you to buy refillable cups. They have a qwest you can embark on and using your cell phone for communication. And while it’s all in the spirit of learning, the kids don’t get a true appreciation of the time period. My son cracks me up when I explain to him how I didn’t have a cell phone growing up. Heck, we didn’t have cordless phones until my teenage years! And remember when the cable box “remote” was literally connected to the TV?

  2. Hi Maria,

    Great post! I love Williamsburg. I’m sure the fan came in HANDY in the heat.

    The fan language is so cool, right? Who knew there were so many ways to speak without words. My daughter went to a Victorian tea birthday party (at the Liberty Hall Museum at Kean University, which was VERY cool) and they taught them all about the fan language. My daughter was so impressed–and still remembers some of the tricks.

    If only there was fan language for, “I will clean up my room.” 🙂

    Hope you had fun on your trip!

    • Ha! Maybe the sign is you pointing the fan in the direction of the room while stamping your foot. 🙂

      A Victorian tea party sounds completely cool and a lot of fun. Maybe an idea for an NJRW conference, huh?

  3. Great idea for a post, Maria! I remember reading about fan-language a few years back…and didn’t Kim Killion mention something about that in one of her presentations, too? She didn’t list all of the tells, but I think she talked about a few of them.

    Don’t you wish you lived in the day when something as simple as a fan could say all you wanted to say to a man? 😉

    • I don’t remember hearing Kim’s workshop. It is pretty neat history, although I could see me messing it up and using the symbol for “No” rather than “kiss me”. 🙂

  4. I think hot and cold running water would be top of my list of modern conveniences I can’t do without. We go camping every summer and I enjoy just about everything except not being able to shower.

    Love this post. One of my favorite books, The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer, has one of the characters using the fan a lot. He (dressed as a she) captivates all the men with it. (And puts them in their place, too.)

    Sounds like you had a great trip. Welcome back.

    • Hi Emma. I agree with you about the hot & cold running water. That’s worse than no A/C. You are braver than me!

      I’ve never read The Masqueraders. A man disguising himself as a woman…interesting. I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for stopping by!

  5. RoseAnn DeFranco

     /  July 9, 2013

    Loved reading about the language of the fan. Immediately my mind went to a comedic character miscommunicationg with the fan. Most likely because if something like that were left in my hands, I’d be all over the place. Farce set in motion due to inept fan work!

    Glad you found a way to stay cool and learned something to boot. Honestly…what modern convenience couldn’t I do without? Lately with my family’s run of luck…doctors and medicines. After a recent trip to both, my daughter told me she felt very lucky to live in a place where we could get the help and medicine we needed and that we had the resources in which to afford both!


    • I have 2 left hands and can completely see me mixing the signals. Doctors and medicine are so important. I can’t imagine how they got by without things like tylenol and antibiotic.

      Enjoy your time in VA. Look for the fan!


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