Flowers Were The Emoticons Of The Victorian Age

You're having a marathon texting conversation with a potential love interest, when they send their final text: a winking face. Now you're questioning everything they just said. Was their last text a joke? Or is that winky emoji just cheeky? Believe it or not, lovers from the Victorian era faced the same issue. Only instead of emoticons, they used various floral bouquets for added hidden meanings.

Related: The First Documented Emoticon Was Proposed After A Bad Joke

Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue. But What Do They Mean?

If you lived in the Victorian era when floriography was in vogue, it would be crucial to learn another form of communication besides letter writing—a language using flowers, not words. According to Atlas Obscura, if someone sent you a bouquet of lupins, hollyhocks, white heather, and ragged robin, they were "impressed with your imaginative wit," and they wished you "good luck in all your ambitions." Aww. If you got hydrangeas, you were "heartless"; delphinium, you're "haughty." A combo of oleander and birdsfoot trefoil said "beware, my revenge." Who knew a beautiful bouquet had such potential to be passive aggressive? It's sort of like a smiley face emoticon after a diss.

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This trend was said to have started with famed Victorian letter writer and feminist poet, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu in the 1700s. She drew her inspiration from the Turkish selam, or "hello." Their form of floral language was used by harem women to communicate in private. (Similar to Pig Latin with your siblings in front of a babysitter.) Flowers and harems both seemed sexy and many upper-class Victorians were fascinated by the "exotic East," so floriography quickly caught on. So much so, that nearly 100 flower dictionaries were published in the 18th and 19th centuries. Authors Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, and Charlotte Bronte all used floral symbolism in their writing. As Atlas Obscura notes, Bronte used snowdrops, crocuses, purple auriculas, and golden-eyed pansies to show that Jane Eyre was feeling "hopeful, cheerful, modest, and preoccupied with the connection between money and happiness." A bouquet, like an emoji, can say so much with so little.

Related: Roses Smell Different In Space—And You Can Smell Like Them Too

Let's Bring It Back!

Sadly, floriography lost its allure during World War I—apparently people had better things to do than research the hidden meaning behind white roses (spoiler: "disinterest in carnality"). However, Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, brought some vintage charm to her 2011 wedding by incorporating the flowers that represent love, marriage, and sports (a shared interest between the couple), as well as Sweet William (the plant, not the prince) which symbolizes gallantry, in honor of her beloved Prince William. So instead of sending ambiguous emojis the next time you'd like to dissuade a suitor, try delivering "let's be friends" yellow roses. Hey, at least they'll have flowers.

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Written by Curiosity Staff February 7, 2017

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