I am looking for a word or expression (if it exists) describing the movement that a plate makes when you lift from two nearby points of the edge, and then you release one a bit before the other. It looks like a rotation, but it is not.

When this movement is done with the hips, apparently it is called a hip roll: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s5Btyc_io4U

However, none of the definitions of "roll", such as "move in a particular direction by turning over and over on an axis" seem to fit the movement I describe.

The closest I can come up is rotational wave but it sounds very technical and I am trying to use this word in a literary context.

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    If I can offer some clarification, do you mean that the wave is going around the plate though the plate itself is not turning/rotating? I believe Feynman described this as a game people were playing in the cafeteria. He found it had some interesting math behind it.. One term to look up is Precessing as a gyroscope does. – Elliot Jul 3 '20 at 21:06
  • @Elliot The Feynman anecdote was what immediately came to mind for me as well. Along with precession, nutation might be worth checking out. – user888379 Jul 3 '20 at 21:44
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    @user888379 Bravo Nutation is the word I could not pull up. As for Feynman, I'm glad for the company. Great minds think alike, stuck here in our basements. – Elliot Jul 3 '20 at 21:55

I am trying to use this word in a literary context.

The normal verb used for this in everyday conversation is wobble:

1 a : to move or proceed with an irregular rocking or staggering motion or unsteadily and clumsily from side to side
       // The vase wobbled but didn't fall over.
       // The boy was wobbling along on his bicycle.

In terms of what's being described in the question, the following could be used:

After I let go of the plate, it wobbled on the table until finally coming to rest.

From As You Wish by Gabi Stevens:

She expelled her breath, and with the rush of air, the plate wobbled and crashed to the floor.

From Marie Tanglehair by Dorothy Heiderstadt:

The cake plate wobbled, and a lean brown hand caught and steadied it for her.

From The Little Book of Thinking Big by Robert Newton:

In other words, when the plate was spinning slowly the plate wobbled at a rate exactly half of the rotation.

  • +1 That's what I thought too, then I saw you beat me to it :-) – auspicious99 Jul 4 '20 at 15:50

I would characterize the motion of the plate as a gyration. From M-W:

gyrate: to oscillate with or as if with a circular or spiral motion

The gyration is damped in that its amplitude decreases every cycle or period. It would work in a literary context.


There is an exact word for this.

Nutation (from Latin nūtātiō, "nodding, swaying") is a rocking, swaying, or nodding motion in the axis of rotation of a largely axially symmetric object.

See https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nutation

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