I'm struggling with how clumsy the term "back and forth" sounds. Is there a word that essentially means a repetitive back and forth motion?


The machine ____. (moves back and forth, or operates on a back and forth style of motion)

I waved my hand ____ly. (in a back and forth manner)

  • 1
    'Waving' is already 'back and forth'.
    – Mitch
    Dec 28, 2014 at 21:50
  • "Back and forth" can be used by itself to modify a verb, no -ly ending necessary. "I waved my hand back and forth". Why does this sound clumsy to you?
    – herisson
    Apr 16, 2015 at 17:23

9 Answers 9


Oscillates fits the machine example, but not (very well) the hand example.

Possibilities for the hand movement are wildly or repeatedly. The latter could also fit the machine case.

  • I don't have a problem with oscillate for waving, sounds a bit weird but describes the movement of waving perfectly 'from one point to another and back again'. "He held his hand high above his head and oscillated it, allowing me to find him in the crowd"
    – Frank
    Apr 17, 2014 at 4:48

I think a common term for this type of movement in machinery is reciprocating.

alternating back-and-forth movement

Google images for reciprocating.

  • This implies that it is moving along a straight line. It would fit the first example, but not the second as you don't wave in a straight line.
    – Tucker
    Apr 17, 2014 at 4:06
  • 1
    @Tucker - A reciprocating motion uses a wheel. A reciprocating saw looks like it is in a straight line but is moving with a wheel - most a pretty small in handheld devices. The reciprocatingly wave would look a little Karate-Kidish. Apr 17, 2014 at 4:11
  • Fair enough. Forgot about the wheel (although I had to really think what you meant by 'Karate-Kidish' and realized you were referring to the move Karate Kid then at the wax-on/wax-off training technique).
    – Tucker
    Apr 17, 2014 at 4:17



an up-and-down or a back-and-forth movement or procedure.


moving up and down, back and forth, or alternately ahead and behind: It was a seesaw game with the lead changing hands many times.


You can use Sway , it might only apply for your first sentence. As Google's definition:

move or cause to move slowly or rhythmically backward and forward or from side to side.


Try "waver" for your first sentence. Waver has a variety of meanings, all suitable to your description and requirements.

For the hand wave, try "flutteringly"


How about Fluctuating? As in results going back and forth :)

  • I can see how this fits the raw requirement, but it really doesn't work in either of the example sentences.
    – Hellion
    Apr 16, 2015 at 16:38

Consider to-and-fro.

There is the mythological PushmePullyu creature. You could work that into a phrase as a metaphor. It was attempted, rather unsuccessfully, in a slightly different metaphorical manner, 1

The Pushme-Pullyu Is Alive and Well, But Dr. Doolittle Is in Trouble.

I think this is a better example though, 2

Regulation is now a Pushmepullyou.


Churned may work well for the machine example, particularly if pistons are involved. If the back-and-forthness is a violent, out of control thing, try buffeted.


For the hand example, you might consider using the emotion behind the gesture. Why are they waving their hand? Dismissively? Are they waving goodbye to somebody, maybe sadly, if the person is leaving? And go ahead on finding bigger words for the emotions, if you want. I'm just tired, hope that helped though.

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