Is there any word/phrase that describes the action of putting the hand on the hair of other people, and moving the hand back and forth?

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  • 1
    Simply "stroking their head", I'd say. Sep 21, 2017 at 16:16
  • Assuming you want the rubbing, fondling sense (as opposed to patting him on the head), the best I can come up with is tousling his hair. Sep 21, 2017 at 16:17
  • Thank you very much. Can I say "He strokes my head", or "don't stroke my head"? Since when I search "stroke the head" in google images, all results come out as a stroke disease. But when I search "stroking the head", correct results are displayed.
    – aye
    Sep 21, 2017 at 16:27
  • 1
    You could use ruffle: the action is ruffling one's hair. That does depend on the hair being long enough (the child in the photo has hair which is too short to ruffle).
    – Andrew Leach
    Sep 21, 2017 at 16:35

2 Answers 2


What you are describing is "petting." Although, petting is usually done to animals. It may be insulting in some cultures to do it to people. Some asian cultures might find it disrespectful as this article explains.

According to Merriam-Webster, definition 1(b) of the verb "pet" is "to stroke in a gentle or loving manner."

  • 1
    What you say is really true. That action should only be done by an older person to a younger person, usually to express love to him/her
    – aye
    Sep 21, 2017 at 18:38

If you are messing up their hair then I would go with tousle or ruffle, probably the first, as in "he tousled her hair." If you are just stroking gently you could use stroke: "to pass the hand or an instrument over (something or somebody) lightly or with little pressure; rub gently, as in soothing or caressing." (In response to your other question, this form doesn't only refer to the medical condition) but it seems to me that stroking usually (although perhaps not necessarily) gives the impression of only rubbing in one direction. Since you said back and forth I would possibly also go with either rub, pet or perhaps caress depending on the specific way this action is performed.

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