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What is a single word that describes the back and forth way a leaf falls to the ground? I don’t think float or flutter quite capture the movement. Does ‘sway’ or ‘oscillate’ convey the image?

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    Flutter is good enough for Wodehouse, among others "On the terrace in front of the club-house an occasional withered leaf fluttered down on the table where the Oldest Member sat" Why don't you like float or flutter? – Andrew Leach Jan 7 at 21:02
  • Hi Andrew. Thanks. Float suggests being pushed up or held aloft, as a cork by water. Fluttering is flapping, such as a butterfly fluttering on summer's breeze. Sway gives the image of back and forth motion, but doesn’t convey descent. There might not be a single word, but I was hoping for one to use as a category. – Roger Jan 7 at 22:04
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    Note that this Lexico definition specifically gives this definition and example: Move or fall with a light irregular or trembling motion. the remaining petals fluttered to the ground. – Jim Jan 7 at 22:15
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    You might need to add a modifier to flutter, for example..."the leaf fluttered down, twisting this way and that in its lazy descent." – Kristina Lopez Jan 7 at 23:01
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    @Roger I think you will find that ‘fluttering’ is a common word for light objects falling irregularly. Here is the Learner’s Dictionary: mobile-dictionary.reverso.net/english-cobuild/…. – Tuffy Jan 8 at 0:11
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I have often found myself in situations where I've felt the dire need of a word that describes this leaf-like motion. The words sway and oscillate are synonymous to words which describe a motion which can be predefined, or carries itself in a steady, predictive way.

A typical example of sway that many poets use is for branches, which sway back and forth with the wind, with [almost] definitive movements, which isn't the case of falling leaves.

And an epitome of oscillation can be found in an ECG. But the movement in an oscillation has sharp, jagged corners, which is unlike the smooth descension that a leaf would take.

That leaves me to expound one word that I think limns the movement the most accurately out of the other two: waver. It is synonymous to sway, but also satisfies the element of how unsteady the movement can be.

2a : to weave or sway unsteadily to and fro : REEL, TOTTER

b : QUIVER, FLICKER //wavering flames

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  • So you would advise writing something such as The leaf wavered to the ground. ? Methinks not. – High Performance Mark Jan 8 at 7:08
  • @HighPerformanceMark If 'flutter' can be used, whose usage is common with the way butterflies move (in ascension), why can't 'waver'? – Noaman Ali Jan 8 at 7:10

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