I'll explain the situation: I am working on a project which involves making people turn their heads from left to right repeatedly and recording their moves. Once this is done, I separate the data into several samples which are: starting left, going right and coming back left (there is a "checkpoint" every time people are at the left end of their moves).

I have trouble finding a way to describe this motion. In French, we'd call it "un aller-retour", but the usual translation is a "round trip" and it seems weird to use it in such a context. Am I wrong?

If not, is there an English word that describes a general motion which goes back and forth?

  • An oscillation. But this is surely also used in French? – Edwin Ashworth Feb 23 '18 at 14:32
  • This is the motion which is recommended for drivers to adopt when moving out into traffic, looking both ways. The only word I have ever heard for it is "Wimbledon motion", which likens it to people watching a game of tennis. – Nigel J Feb 23 '18 at 14:34
  • In this particular case it could be described as shaking the head, a movement which is often associated with indicating 'No' ( where 'Yes' would be indicated by 'Nodding the head'), but the movement described would not normally be slow and would often be slight. 'Shaking the head from left to right' might work. – Lee Leon Feb 23 '18 at 14:36
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    The English equivalent of French aller-retour in OP's context is to-and-fro (except that's always an adverbial form, not a noun). – FumbleFingers Feb 23 '18 at 14:46
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    You could use the phrase in your question: turning their heads back and forth. – Lawrence Feb 23 '18 at 15:10

You could refer to each back-and-forth movement as a cycle for which one definition in the Oxford online dictionary is

A series of events that are regularly repeated in the same order.

You would have to describe a cycle once in your paper (for instance by saying "The subjects were asked to perform cycles of actions turning their heads from left to right and back again") but you could then refer to "each cycle", "at the end of each cycle", "after ten cycles", "half way through each cycle", "reverse cycles" and many other variations on that theme as many times as you wanted and the meaning would be perfectly clear.


In this situation where you are presumably giving an instruction, I would describe the motion as "shaking your head no".

  • I was actually looking for a description of the move once it's recorded (the curve describing the motion), not the motion of the person itself. – Fx Stempfel Feb 24 '18 at 11:25

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