Recently, I've found myself talking about the use of pinching to zoom out on mobile devices, and I've been struggling with an opposite for the word 'pinch'. In lieu of a better word, I've been saying 'unpinch'. I'm wondering if there's a more appropriate word to use to describe the motion of spreading the fingers from a pinch position.

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    I have seen the verbs pinch and zoom used as antonymns, and wikipedia has as well :)
    – oerkelens
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:26
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    Isn't it called the Jaws of Life (the device used to uncrumple cars with people still inside)?
    – Joshua
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 20:15
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    I think you will get more appropriate answers on the User Experience site: ux.stackexchange.com
    – user39425
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 20:22
  • What's the motivation to use such a word? I would say 'pinch-to-zoom' to describe the action in either direction, and if I was talking about zooming in or out, I have no need to say anything other than 'zoom in' or 'zoom out'.
    – OJFord
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 21:49
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    Other than qualifying pinch with in or out as a disambiguation, I can think of the words spread or splay for the gesture itself, although these words are not commonly used by the tech industry for this purpose. Also, expand or reverse pinch. Commented Jun 11, 2014 at 2:03

6 Answers 6


In their own iOS Developer Library, Apple calls it pinching in and pinching out:

The pinch-in and pinch-out zoom gestures are standard gestures that iOS application users expect to use when zooming in and out.

Since Apple is the company that brought pinching to such widescale usage as it has been in recent years (and, as far as I am aware, though I have no sources to back this up, also the company that extended the meaning of pinch to include this thitherto unnamed touch-screen gesture), I’d say their terminology is more or less as definitive as you’re going to get in this particular context.

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    I think 'pinch' was a well known word for the gesture of bringing thumb and forefinger together before Apple thought of it.
    – Frank
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:35
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    @Frank Before the advent of touch interfaces, pinch always signified closing your thumb and forefinger (or other combinations of fingers, for that matter) around something. It was the effect on that something that was the actual pinching. The extended meaning of pinch to refer to simply moving your fingers towards each other without any tactile object is what touch interfaces (and, if I’m not mistaken, Apple) brought about. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:38
  • Pinch your fingers doesn't mean grasp the fingers of your other hand between your thumb and forefinger. No issues with the rest of your answer.
    – Frank
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:55
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    @Frank Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve just never heard anyone say that. “He pinched” or “He pinched his fingers” is not something I’ve ever heard used without some kind of context to make it clear what he was pinching down on—at least not until touchscreens. Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 14:59
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    When you get older you get asked Can you pinch your fingers? quite a lot when you visit a medical professional. I presume there is a combination of dexterity and mental capacity being tested. I usually pass the dexterity text. :)
    – Frank
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 15:09

I have occasionally heard the term stretch when it comes to touch screen manipulation ("Pinch 2 or more fingers together to zoom out. Stretch them apart to zoom in.") which may be suitable so long as the user interprets it as zooming in rather than resizing an image. Just keep in mind that stretch might imply resizing one dimension and not the other.

Side note: Certain articles define pinching as "when two touch points are detected on the touch screen" regardless of the direction the fingers are moving. So I guess there's no official term.


The answer @Janus Bahs Jacquet posted is an interesting piece of etymology and most likely the closest we'll get to a temporary standard from the current state of the industry.

As neat as the tidbit of info is, I think both pinch-in and pinch-out are basically yet-another-example of dogmatic Apple-lingo, by no fault of Janus.

Since you are asking about appropriateness, I would suggest that you have already said what may be the most appropriate word for the inverse of the natural pinching action (as opposed to terminology).

The word: spreading.


How do I zoom in? Pinch your fingers together to zoom-in.

How do I zoom out? Spread your fingers apart to zoom-out.

As further proof, notice how easily pinch and spread are paired with two other antonyms, together and apart while being just as friendly to the in/out pair.

Saying, "pinch-in with your fingers to zoom-in", "zoom-out by pinching out" or generally pinching in any direction seems a bit odd verbally.

I think that's because pinching needs to correlate things closing in on each other. Speaking to the younger kids in my family we'll say "don't let that door pinch your finger." More abstract references like "I'm in a pinch" may refer equally to a "tight situation" where the person may be "squeezed for time/money/other".

Late micro-edit with some additional suggestions.

  • Smear - A backup idea for the same concept as spread with one finger.
  • Poke - "A pinch and a poke", one might say pinching is a very small pull while poking is a small push. Not good for zoom context though.
  • If one finger is stationary while zooming out, a second finger is reeling -(or scrolling away and returning repeatedly.)

Finally I think the most appropriate word, even compared with my original answer, is: splay.


Smashing Magazine has an animated GIF with touch gestures, and they refer to the opposite of "pinch" as spread

Touch gestures


Samsung describes the action in their user manuals as 'spreading'.

"Spreading and pinching - Spread two fingers to zoom in or pinch two fingers to zoom in."

  • That answer has already been given. Although this does give more evidence for its use.
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Jun 5, 2017 at 11:56

Something like 'Release' or a variation of it sounds close.

  • Welcome to EL&U. This is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum, and so answers are expected to provide some explanation, with links to suitable references— why do you suggest release, not merely that you do. I encourage you to take the site tour and visit the help center for additional guidance.
    – choster
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 15:36
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    "Release" would make sense in the typical use of the word pinch, but as the question explains, it's for use on a touch screen - which would make it sound like "Remove your fingers from the screen."
    – 4444
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 20:20
  • If you wanted to zoom out, and you haven't yet zoomed in, 'release' sounds kind of weird.
    – James
    Commented Jun 10, 2014 at 21:21

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