2020-2021 Season,  An Ideal Husband

Fan-atical Victorian Conversation

by Charisse Baxter, dramaturg

Smoke signals. Pictographs. Hieroglyphics. Morse Code. Computer programming. Lemon juice. Emojis… and so much more! The quest to communicate has been constant throughout the history of humanity, and along the way, all kinds of methods of exchanging information have either lost their meaning for a while, or were always intended to be secret and used only by those ‘in the know.’

During the Victorian era, when Oscar Wilde was writing his society-skewering plays, there were several communication methods employed by those who were in on the underground code-speak. One such method was the ‘language of flowers’, with which messages and feelings could be expressed by particular floral arrangements. Another, slightly more secretive (and therefore more fun) method, was ‘fan language’, in which ladies and gentlemen could conduct entire conversations under the noses of their chaperones.

Take a look!


One Comment

  • Reyna Shumway

    That video is hilarious!!! I am so interested to know how that became a thing! I mean, I could imagine a couple creating a fan code with one another to communicate, but how did it become so widespread to the point where everyone was using the same signals? I suppose I could ask the same question for modern slang today. Even that baffles me. My friends and family often shorten words or invent slang words that mean various things but they don’t get famous, yet whoever invented “lit,” “mood,” “bae,” “gucci” (I could go on forever), somehow got the whole world to use them. I’m sure vines and memes are key to that, but it’s still a mystery to me, what catches on and what doesn’t.

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