You probably have heard about the latest phenomenon in online chatting - Chatroulette. Basically, it is speed dating on the internet where you click from one stranger to the next. All you need is a webcam and an internet connection. No age limits. No restrictions. Just type the usual cryptic chat abbreviations and move to the next person. Ugh. Where is the romance?
(switching to my patronizing old lady voice now...)
Teenagers today may think that they are the first generation to use a coded language to chat with their peers, but they don't have anything on 18th century fan flirting.
The following are the fan signals and their text messaging equivalents:
Fan abbreviation: Cover left ear with closed fan
If you mistrust the person:
Text abbreviation: TILIS (Tell it like it is)
Fan abbreviation: Fan closed, place tip to nose.
If someone’s conversation is not stimulating:
Text abbreviation: BOOMS (Bored out of my skull)
Fan abbreviation: Yawn behind a closed fan
If you want him to get lost:
Text abbreviation: BIH! (Burn in hell) or BOB (Back off buddy)
Fan abbreviation: Lower an open fan and point it at the ground
If you don't believe his compliments
Text abbreviation: GIAR (Give it a rest)
Fan abbreviation: Place your chin on the tip of the fan
To let him down gently:
Text abbreviation: NFM (Not for me)
Fan abbreviation: Open your fan and make a brushing movement like you are swatting an annoying fly
If you are interested:
Text abbreviation: BG (Big grin) or G (Giggle) or more to the point - URH (You are hot)
Fan abbreviation: Open your fan and use it to coquettishly hide your eyes
If you are really interested
Text abbreviation: ILU, ILY (I love you)
Fan abbreviation: Place the tip of your fan to your heart
You are interested enough for a tryst
Text abbreviation: BTYCL? (Bootycall)
Fan abbreviation: Open fan slightly over heart and flutter it to indicate the time of your rendez-vous
Not only could a girl use her fan to communicate quick emotions, but have whole conversations in a sort of fan Morse code. Charles Francis Bandini's "fanology" taught the subtle art of fan flirting and much like today's text abbreviations, fanology promised to "Improve the Friendship and set forth a plan for ladies to chit chat and hold the tongue."
Below is the teaching device for "Fanology" or "The Ladies Conversation Fan."
Here is how it worked:
To chat with your buddies, you would place your fan in the correct letter position using a 2 combination number. Letters were first broken up into five different fan positions similiar to how the keys on some cell phones are grouped with 3 letters on one key (ok...I have a really old phone).
Position 1 was A-E.
Position 2 was F-K.
Position 3 was L- P.
Position 4 was Q-U.
Position 5 was V-Z
"J" was eliminated.
The second number would indicate the letter postion from within that group. So for example, if you wanted to spell L * O * V * E, you would put your fan in position 3 and 1 to indicate "L". Then you would put your fan in position 3 and postion 4 to sign "O". And so on. This would work wonders to flirt with your man across a crowded room....unless he was nearsighted, in which case all that incessant flapping would just cool your ardor.*
18th century tortoise shell fan for $1,600. Isn't it beautiful? sigh. A girl can dream.
Now that video chatting has become so popular, maybe teens could at least skip the text abbreviations and get out their fans? No?? Feel free to share these fan flirting tips with an angst ridden teen. Don’t expect them to be impressed.
*By the 19th century, the Victorians had completely rewrote the fan language etiquette so you better have the most recent code book or you might tell the object of your desire to beat it when you really meant you make my heart beat.
Sources and Further Reading:
Wikipedia has more chat abbreviations here.
Images from V&A Collections
Picard, Liza. Dr. Johnson's London : coffee-houses and climbing boys, medicine, toothpaste, and gin, poverty and press-gangs, freakshows and female education, New York : St. Martin's Press, 2001.
Stabile, Susan. Memory's Daughters: The Material Culture of Remembrance in Eighteenth-Century America, Cornell University Press, 2004