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Say there's a small animal hidden among bushes and it causes the branches (if they can be called that) of the bushes to shake/move slightly. Now the sound of this could probably be described using rustling, but what word would use to describe the visual shaking/movement of the bushes?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted


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-1: Sorry, but bushes don't tremble! – Jimi Oke Mar 30 '11 at 2:40
Sorry, found a few references to trembling bushes. Duly upvoted your answer. +1 +1 ! – Jimi Oke Mar 30 '11 at 2:43
I think only -aspens- tremble. Everything else rustles. – Mitch Nov 19 '11 at 17:51

According to the Free Dictionary, you have it backwards: rustling refers to the movement, and the sound is thus implied. Personally I associate the word so strongly with both the movement and the sound that I would use it for either meaning.

So, stick with rustling.

To add to the other answers, a simple accurate word: shaking.

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The dictionaries I checked (M-W, Oxford) indicate that he doesn't have it backwards. They do agree that the sound and movement are closely associated though. – z7sg Ѫ Mar 29 '11 at 12:09
I agree rustling primarily relates to the sound, but movement is strongly implied (we wouldn't normally say something rustled if we could see it wasn't moving). But if I were looking through binoculars at a distant bush being disturbed by rabbit, I might say it trembled, rather than rustled - simply to avoid the inappropriate referemce to sound. – FumbleFingers Mar 29 '11 at 13:13
Technically you can't have sound without movement. You can have movement without sound (e.g. in a vacuum). – Matt E. Эллен Mar 29 '11 at 14:35
I like rustling. It has the added benefit of conjuring up images of cowboys stealing cattle. (Apparently the cowboys hide in the bushes and wait for a cow to wander past so they can shake the bushes and scare the cow... ...or something...) – oosterwal Mar 29 '11 at 15:31
I'd associated 'rustling' more with the sound, rather than just the movement. I like 'trembling' and 'quivering' (as Chris suggested below) though. Nothing else more specific? – Ankur Banerjee Mar 29 '11 at 18:24

Suppose the small animal happens to be a tortoise, the bushes might slowly flex as the tortoise lumbers between them.

Now suppose the animal is Tasmanian Devil, the bushes might flap violently as the Devil rushes through.

If a breeze is blowing the bushes might rustle.

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And if that Devil wore a blue dress: froufrou. – Callithumpian Mar 29 '11 at 13:57
+1 for giving me a good laugh – Ankur Banerjee Mar 29 '11 at 18:20

I think it is hard to beat rustling but consider swaying or, more poetically, shivering.

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I would use quivering.

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See here: meta.english.stackexchange.com/questions/836/… – Yitzchak Mar 29 '11 at 15:04
Good idea...... – Chris Cudmore Mar 29 '11 at 15:23
I'd associate 'quivering' more with shaking, as in, 'quivering with fear'. Bushes? – Ankur Banerjee Mar 29 '11 at 18:22
Come to think of it, quivering does make sense in this context. – Ankur Banerjee Mar 29 '11 at 18:24

Thinking of the rigidity of bushes I would fall on shudder; it fits well with the shape of the object.

Shudder also implies a geometric uneasiness, and pins and needles. A part of your question (the movement/sound of a leaf) is answered by rustling; shudder is complementary as it pushes further into the character of bushes or shrubbery, and moves away from trees and more pliant plants.

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