I'm looking for a word that means to circle outward from a center point, with each circle getting a little larger than the previous, as would be used by a search party, for example.

"The helicopter flew in ______ circles as we peered down toward the trees."

"Start there, and [walk (or any motion) in] ______ [circles] until you find a table with your name on it."

A single word for the whole thing would also be acceptable.

I found this word "circumnutation," but the main meaning of that word seems specific to plants, and the directly relevant version of the word is marked as not accepted and might not be standard. It's also specifically referring to ripples in water, which is not what I'm looking for. I also think the word I'm looking for is something I've encountered in the past, just can't remember at the moment.

  • 5
    Do you mean spiral? Aug 24, 2017 at 17:48
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    I would expand on @michael.hor257k's suggestion to make it "The helicopter spiraled outward as we peered down toward the trees." Although, now reading that, it might get read as "spiraled out of control" if someone weren't paying close attention. Aug 24, 2017 at 17:51
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    I didn't say "spiral circles", I said "spiral", which is both a noun and a verb as well as an adjective. If you want to describe circles, then perhaps "widening" or "ever-widening" might suit. Aug 24, 2017 at 17:55
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    @marcellothearcane My dictionary defines it as winding in a continuous and gradually widening (or tightening) curve - which is exactly what OP describes. Aug 24, 2017 at 18:02
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    @RogerSinasohn Only a subatomic particle can fly in concentric circles by performing a quantum jump from one circle to another. A helicopter can only fly along the path of a spiral (or helix). Aug 24, 2017 at 18:11

5 Answers 5



The helicopter flew in ever-widening circles as we peered down toward the trees.

  • +1, or even just widening on its own.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:05

There's emanate:

(of something abstract but perceptible) to issue or spread out from (a source).

Source: ODO

Or maybe the circles are concentric:

of or denoting circles, arcs, or other shapes that share the same center, the larger often completely surrounding the smaller.

Source: ODO

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    I always thought of concentric as the circular version of parallel -- that is, the circles don't touch, much like a target. I think OP is looking for something more spiral-ish. Aug 24, 2017 at 17:59
  • @RogerSinasohn yes, they are. but the OP didn't seem to like 'spiral'. I think they're wanting 'go round in a circle then go a bit wider, then do a circle, etc...' Aug 24, 2017 at 18:04
  • @RogerSinasohn: The circles don't just "not touch", they also share the same center (hence "con"-"centric"). It's possible to draw circles that do not touch yet not share the same center. This is a bit different for lines, as they are infinitely long, and therefore not touching can only be achieved by them being exactly parallel.
    – Flater
    Aug 25, 2017 at 9:23

How about chocleate?

Merriam-Webster gives the medical definition: having the form of a snail shell

For fun, here's a Mental Floss article titled "18 Fancy Words for Specific Shapes" that includes chocleate.

  • Not my down-vote on this answer, but does chocleate relate to the 1D path embedded in 3D space, or to the 3D spiral-shell shape? By the way, it often helps to include a relevant excerpt when you include links in answers - pages sometimes get edited or deleted etc.
    – Lawrence
    Aug 27, 2017 at 11:15

The helicopter flew in spirals as we peered down toward the trees.

is the most natural wording in US English.

Start there, and walk in spirals until you find a table with your name on it.

Or (a little less idiomatic):

Start there, and spiral until you find a table with your name on it.


What about centrifugal?

Centrifugal means "moving or tending to move away from a center".

"The helicopter flew in a centrifugal spiral as we peered down..."


"The helicopter flew in centrifugal circles as we peered down..."

It accurately describes what you're trying to communicate and it isn't so obscure a word that it will confuse or alienate your readers.

  • Why the downvote?
    – Luke
    Aug 27, 2017 at 9:04

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