Words like 'dither' or 'vacillate' both suggest being unable to choose between A or B and never choosing either. Is there a word that means 'chooses A, then goes back on their decision and chooses B, then goes back on their decision again and chooses A and so on'?

Any suggestions greatly appreciated.


  • If I could find it, the word that describes the shift between one enantiomeric isomer and the other in chemistry might suit.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 13:13
  • @Kit: I'm no chemist, but are 'enantiomeric isomers' involved in changing the bottle of liquid blue / clear / blue? chemistry.about.com/od/chemistrydemonstrations/ss/… Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:41
  • @FumbleFingers I don't think so. I'm pretty sure that's an oxidation reaction. But I'm not a chemist either.
    – Kit Z. Fox
    Commented May 20, 2011 at 17:50

8 Answers 8


A word choice with little implication of lack of decisiveness is alternate:

The user alternated pressing the buttons A and B.

  • This was my first thought also. Commented May 20, 2011 at 16:39
  • 1
    Obviously I'm in a minority here, but alternate sounds to me like an odd word to use here. Maybe that's because the derivative word alternative closely associates with 'choice', which is central to OP's context, whereas alternate generally only associates with 'toggle-switching' where choice isn't an option. Commented May 20, 2011 at 18:29

If you're a US politician the word is flip-flop.

  • In Australian politics there is the "back flip" but it is not usually repetetive (-: Commented May 20, 2011 at 16:39

I think vacillate does imply actually making a choice, but repeatedly switching to the other position. So I'd use that anyway.

For less formal contexts, blow hot and cold, shilly-shally, chop and change all seem fine to me.


In my house we say "wiffle-waffle" for this. I wouldn't call it standard. But I bet most readers would understand it.


I'd suggest that perhaps tergiversate would be what you are looking for, with perhaps prevaricate and equivocate as other possibilities.


You can use oscillate for that purpose. Think of an oscillating fan, swinging back and forth at a steady pace.

os·cil·late –verb (used without object)
1. to swing or move to and fro, as a pendulum does.
2. to vary or vacillate between differing beliefs, opinions, conditions, etc.: He oscillates regularly between elation and despair.
3. Physics . to have, produce, or generate oscillations.
4. Mathematics . (of a function, sequence, etc.) to tend to no limit, including infinity: The sequence 0, 1, 0, 1, … oscillates.

  • 2
    This is the perfect word for the alternating part but I can't think of ever hearing it applied to a person - it sounds too mechanical to me. Commented May 20, 2011 at 16:41

I guess fluctuate is what you're looking for.


I propose waver and yo-yo.

I think that it would be easier to answer this kind of question with an example sentence.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.