What is the appropriate word for the dragging motion of a finger on a trackpad of a laptop or any surface with an intention to make an effect?

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    can't agree @Jon – Necktwi Apr 6 '17 at 5:32
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    @Xanne can you imagine any natural thing that responds to the finger touch gesture? – Necktwi Apr 6 '17 at 9:50
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    @Mari-LouA - "trackpad", I'm fairly sure, was actually the earlier term. And if I'm not mistaken you had "trackball" before that. (If I'm not mistaken those were used in eg. military applications (for literally "tracking" things), just as joysticks of various forms existed before they were commonly thought of as "computer things").) Anyway I do believe "trackpad" was the earlier name for the things on laptops, now "touchpad" is more common? Note that they won't exist within a couple years, simply "that area of the laptop case" will entirely be touch sensitive - know what I mean? – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:28
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    @Fattie Trackballs are still a thing, I use one. Like the track pad, the way it works means you only need to move your fingers to move the cursor, not the rest of your arm like a conventional mouse. – Spagirl Apr 6 '17 at 12:30
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    @Fattie It's not just specialists - lots of people use trackballs because they are supposed to be lower risk than normal mice for RSI/CTS. Personally, I use them just because I got used to them and find them nicer for a mix of precise mouse movement and large movements. – Latty Apr 6 '17 at 13:34

Slide is an alternative to move used in, e.g., the following description of possible gestures on a trackpad:


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    @neckTwi The verb will remain the same no matter how many fingers you need to use for a specific gesture. This article for example describes sliding gestures with just one finger. I think it is a good answer, and I'm a software engineer. – undercat applauds Monica Apr 6 '17 at 5:41
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    this is utterly incorrect – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:14
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    ... in terms of how I understand the question. – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:28
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    Apple should never be used as the correct source for this unless the question is specifically about Apple products. They frequently go against the grain – USER_8675309 Apr 6 '17 at 13:00
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    @thunderblaster They don't think different -- they want money just like every other company. Their way of doing it is attempting to be unique – USER_8675309 Apr 6 '17 at 15:02

The verb you need here is swipe. Unlike the verb slide, the word swipe gives an indication of a sudden and swift movement. Here is an explanation of swiping from Tech Terms:

Swipe is a command used primarily with touchscreen devices, such as smartphones and tablets. It is also supported by some laptops with trackpads and desktop computers with trackpad input.

A swipe involves quickly moving (or "swiping") your finger across a touchscreen or trackpad. For example, swiping the screen from right to left in a photo viewing application typically displays the next photo. While browsing multiple photos, swiping up or down may allow you scroll through the photo library. Most smartphones also allow you to swipe left or right to switch between home screens.

Devices that support multi-touch may allow you to swipe with multiple fingers to perform different functions. For example, MacBook users can swipe left or right with two fingers to perform the Back or Forward command in a web browser. Swiping up or down with three fingers performs the Exposé command in Mac OS X.

Reference: Christensson, Per. "Swipe Definition." TechTerms. (June 21, 2012). Accessed Apr 6, 2017. https://techterms.com/definition/swipe.

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    The only correct answer. "Drag" is also perfectly correct, if you are dragging something. (So, when "moving a file icon" or during "drag and drop" operations.) With two fingers, it is usually a "pinch". – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:16
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    Actually it's not that correct :) Also the reference writers are hopeless ("quickly" has no connection, whatsoever, to swiping: you can swipe as slowly as you happen to want to). – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:30
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    "Swipe" is only accurate when your motion results in windows or screens being swiped out of the way. Swipe is the name of one of the many possible interaction which might result from the physical motion. You don't call it swiping when you're dragging, and you don't call it swiping when all you're doing is moving the pointer. – Beanluc Apr 6 '17 at 17:25
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    This answer is for a specific type of motion, so I think that slide is better, because it encompasses more types of motion. A swipe is always a single, sudden motion. If you wanted to describe a circular motion on the trackpack, it would make more sense to say "slide your finger in a circle" than "swipe your finger in a circle". Same with "slide to unlock." – mbomb007 Apr 6 '17 at 21:15
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    @neckTwi It's got nothing to do with the dictionary definition - clearly a swipe gesture is perfectly described by the word "slide", it's just not idiomatic in the context of user interface input on a trackpad device. – J... Apr 6 '17 at 21:24

Brush (v):

As she brushed her finger across the touchpad, the mouse cursor followed her motion.

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    +1 𝑓𝑜𝑟 a nice word; “brushing along” quite matches the actual action, but it is to be determined if it’s suitable regarding touch screens (along with “swipe”, “pinch”, “tap”, etc.). – dakab Apr 6 '17 at 5:16
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    Swipe is rather good, @dakab, it's got a speedier connotation. OK if I include it to make the answer more complete? – Chemus Apr 6 '17 at 5:19
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    "Swipe" (in various directions, with one or more fingers) is something you can do, but it usually does more than move the cursor on the screen--it will may go to another page of a document or a different application that's open. – Xanne Apr 6 '17 at 7:14
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    This would be a good literary description, but it's never used as a word for the thing being discussed. – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:36
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    Nobody ever uses the word "brush" to describe an interaction with a touch-based computer control device. – Beanluc Apr 6 '17 at 17:27

This information is a little domain-specific (electronic devices), but JavaFX and Android libraries have names for user interactions like you've described.


  1. TouchMoved - means that a user has touched the screen and then moved their finger without lifting it off the screen
  2. Swipe[Direction(Down,Left,Right,Up)] - means that a user has touched the screen and then moved their finger in a single motion that approached the edge of the screen/application

Android refers to any user touch interaction as an 'onTouch' in general. The actual motion will be a motion event, specifically an 'ACTION_MOVE'as described a few pages down here. (It's called a 'HOVER_MOVE' if the user isn't actually touching the screen.) A motion event which intersects with an edge of the screen is an 'Edge[Direction(Bottom,Left,Top,Right)]', which seems to closely match the JavaFX concept of Swipe.

From this, I believe that the word you are looking for is a 'touch move'.

I would not say 'swipe' unless you are implying that the user has dragged their finger/tool to an edge. I would be careful with 'slide', since that implies a linear motion and the word doesn't even appear in the Android MotionEvent or the JavaFX Node documentation.

  • As you mention, those terms are specific to the codes you're describing but you're completely accurate that swipe and slide are not the correct answers here. – lly Apr 7 '17 at 17:32

I do believe swipe to be the most correct term and reckon it has or will soon be the de facto recognized nomenclature for the dragging motion of a finger [on a trackpad].

The term scroll also has some application, meaning: "move displayed text or graphics in a particular direction on a computer screen in order to view different parts of them."

Where swipe tends to imply decisive action, scroll does not.

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    As above, swipe is only correct where the action moves windows &c. out of the way; dragging items around the screen is distinguished; scrolling up and down is distinguished; moving the pointer isn't included in any of them. – lly Apr 7 '17 at 17:28
  • I would disagree that swipe is only correct where the action is moving windows out of the way -- even though it is the more accurate term for that specific action. The usage is increasingly generic for "dragging motion of a finger on a trackpad" and I would maintain that the word is appropriate. – PCARR Apr 8 '17 at 11:49
  • I simply don't believe you that anyone says 'I swiped the cursor around' or 'I moved the icon by swiping it'. As you say, maybe in the future. – lly Apr 9 '17 at 0:07
  • Now that you mention it my reference might be more focused on touchpanel rather than trackpad - since you mention cursors. I can't imagine swiping a cursor! This is post-cursor talk. – PCARR Apr 9 '17 at 10:55

In this case, there is a distinct clue in the name 'trackpad', as your finger could be said to track across the pad.

Miriam-Webster's definition of track as a transitive verb, definition 3:

to travel over : traverse, track a desert

And for example:

She tracked her finger over the pad.

See also trace.

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    This would be a good literary description, but it's never used as a word for the thing being discussed. – Fattie Apr 6 '17 at 12:37
  • The pad tracks the finger's movement across it; the finger isn't tracking anything. (Yes, there's a tertiary sense of the word that could mean that. The fact remains that that is not what was intended or is understood by the term in this context.) – lly Apr 7 '17 at 17:33

There is no single generic phrase for "the dragging motion of a finger on a trackpad" as there are multiple gestures with different effects. There are also gestures which only involve touching or pressing the pad without moving the finger on it, so gesture would be wider.

The most common gesture is tracking - the effect of moving the mouse pointer by 'pushing' it by one or more drags. The position is relative and the motion accelerates slightly based on the speed of the gesture. This different to how a touch tablet works - a tablet is absolute so interprets the position of the gesture as the scaled position of the pointer, whereas a trackpad keeps track of the mouse pointer and adds the effect of the gesture to that position. It's so common a gesture that it almost never gets mentioned, except of course in the name of the device.

You can swipe if the motion is to move a window, show the Windows Charms, accept or reject an option, or go back. Swipes usually ignore gestures which are too slow.

You can drag by selecting something in an application then touch and hold and drag your fingers.

You can scroll by dragging two fingers at once in the same direction.

You can pinch by dragging two fingers towards or away from each other.

There are other gestures, but there isn't a generic word for 'gestures which involve movement'.

  • But the device is the one tracking the motion of the user's fingertip. The motion of the fingertip itself is not tracking. Still you're much more correct than the more upvoted posts in pointing out that we use a horde of different terms depending on the action being taken. – lly Apr 7 '17 at 17:30

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