“Women are armed with fans as men with swords, and sometimes do more execution with them.” – Joseph Addison was a publisher and ran an academy in the 1700s that taught ladies the language of fans
For hundreds of years, women have used accessories as tools for secret communication.
Evidenced by recent events, Madeline Albright has never been one to keep her opinions to herself. In former times, however, she expressed her ideas with a bit more subtlety and charm. As US Ambassador to the United Nations, Madeline Albright was in charge of monitoring the sanctions against the Iraqis at the end of the first Gulf War. Saddam Hussein did not take kindly to her tough stance. A meeting between her and her Iraqi counterparts was followed up with the publication of poem in the government-controlled Iraqi press entitled “To Madeleine Albright, Without Greetings.” The poem included the line: “Albright, Albright, all right, all right, you are the worst in this night” and ended with a reference to her as an “unparalled serpent.” Ms. Albright’s attire for her next get-together with her Iraqi counterparts included a golden snake brooch.
In 1997, when Ms. Albright was appointed as US Secretary of States and thus became the highest ranking female civil servant in US history, she continued using her brooches as an essential part of her “personal diplomatic arsenal.” While balloons, butterflies and flowers signified optimism during diplomatic talks, crabs and turtles indicated frustration. After the Russians were caught tapping the State Department, and even listening in on Ms. Albright’s office, she engaged in the next round of talks with the Russian officials wearing pin with a gigantic bug on it. Stinging message on its way? Ms. Albright donned a wasp pin. Time and again, she accentuated her polite talk with no-nonsense pin speak.
In the same manner, women over the centuries have used ornate fans as both a fashion accessory and a communication tool. Fluttering signals could indicate that the lady in question considers you infatuating or a flop.
Fanning the Flame
Fan held high at the chest, spread open and pointing downwards: Better luck next time, this girl’s taken.
Fan spread open and the top is lightly pressed against the lips: Shut up, get over here and kiss me.
Fan spread open at shoulder height with pinky finger extended outwards: Take a hike. You’re a total bore.
Fanning self slowly: Nothing to see here, keep moving, I’m hitched.
Fanning self quickly: Engaged. Catch the glint of the rock on my finger as I vigorously bat this fan back and forth.
Fan spread open, pointed upwards and pressed against the heart: I love you.
Placing the fan on the right check: Why yes!
Placing the fan on the left check: No way!
Fan closed and pressed against the ear straight up and down (not angled like a telephone!): Call me, maybe. Definitely.
Opening and shutting the fan: You are cruel.
Twirling the fan in the left hand means: We are watched.
Fan closed and pressed against the lips: Get over here and whisper sweet nothings in my ear.
Fan closed and pressed against a coffee cup (or wine glass, beer mug, whiskey flask…): I’m thirsty, sweetcakes, and you look like the perfect man to buy me a drink.
But the thing about communication is that it is a two-way street and only effective if the person on the receiving end understands the message being sent. While the press and even Vladimir Putin became quite skilled in recognizing Ms. Albright’s “Read-My-Pin,” codes, it is easy to imagine the young men throughout the ages have had quite a time at making heads and tails of the slow, rapid, hand-switching, waving, fluttering signals of fans to the point where there must have been some Cassanovas-in-waiting who got so frustrated that they simply surrendered and walked away. But take heart. It is equally important to recognize that sometimes, a fan is simply just a fan.
Interested in learning more? Check out these sites:
Wikipedia page of Jean-Pierre Duvelleroy – a fan manufacturer from 1827 from Paris: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duvelleroy
Exhibition of 200 pins used by Ms. Albright during her service as US Secretary of State: