I was looking through a few words that would convey the idea of trying (fighting the gravity pull) to stay in one position in the air for a very short while. (Implies having difficulty keeping that position)

And I have these choices, but maybe somebody knows of a better word or a more common one, or maybe a special term for that:

  • hold - to hold in the air for a few seconds.
  • freeze - to freeze in the air for a few seconds. (From police slang)
  • drift - to drift in the air for a few seconds. (Somehow drift feels like a long-time action)
  • stay - to stay in the air for a few seconds. (This seems not to include any difficulties with doing so)
  • float - to float in the air for a few seconds. (This seems to convey the idea of floating as in water)

Out of these I think hold is my best shot.

  • As far as I can see, from reading about rockets, there is simply no such thing. You are either going up or down or coasting. There is no such thing as a thing that is launched or thrown into the air coming to a standstill. It only appears that way. Now, if you tie a helium balloon to a string, it would be hovering or floating in the air. So, unless you are a deadweight (ahem) hanging from a rope, it's impossible.
    – Lambie
    Sep 2 '17 at 16:56
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    He could be a cartoon cat or coyote. youtube.com/watch?v=Gq_bjaI0NTo Sep 2 '17 at 17:45
  • The OP didn't mention "rockets". I vote for "hover". Like a 'copter or a bee. :)
    – Jim
    Sep 2 '17 at 23:05
  • @Jim A bee or a copter indeed do hover, but they don't have difficulty doing so, they can do it for a long time, that's not that. Sep 3 '17 at 15:18

The most common term used in OP's context is probably...

hover (Merriam-Webster)
a : to hang fluttering in the air or on the wing
b : to remain suspended over a place or object

Note that alternatives such as drift, float could be used here, but they're actually more associated with moving slowly or being suspended in liquid (usually, water, the sea, etc.). Hover is never used in relation to being suspended in water - only in air (or similar gas).

There is also the verb...

to move along without or as if without further application of propulsive power (as by momentum or gravity)

...but with the caveat (emphasis mine above) that if something is coasting this always implies that it's moving (because of inertia; it's not "hanging suspended" without moving).

  • Hmm, I'm not sure. Imaging a rocket launched into the sky. It stops somewhere up there trying not to fall and then explodes. It doesn't hover, it levitates gor a second-two. Sep 2 '17 at 16:34
  • The rocket doesn't try not to fall. It's a moment of equipoise. Sep 2 '17 at 16:35
  • You've completely lost me there. Rockets don't "hover". If they're not launched with "escape velocity" then eventually they just fall back to earth the same as a ball thrown into the air. There is no word to describe the time-span between when a thrown object is moving upwards and when gravity takes over and it falls downwards, since that time is infinitely short (it doesn't have any meaningful "duration" during which the object is neither going up nor coming back down). Sep 2 '17 at 16:39
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    @SovereignSun What you seem to be describing is a rocket that hangs in midair. Sep 2 '17 at 17:51
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    @Lambie: Not so. Things like hummingbirds and hobby drones are said to "hover" when they hold themselves in exactly the same "position" in the air. In which context it's quite natural to say they can [hang] motionless [in mid-air]. Even though the wings/rotors are "moving" very fast, we still say the entire bird/machine is motionless (mainly because it's not changing position, but also perhaps influenced by the fact that the movement which keeps the thing up is actually too fast for us to see anyway). Sep 4 '17 at 13:02

I'll go through the options you proposed and the community's other suggestions.

My favourites

Hovering in midair: This is a pretty good word for anything being somehow in midair and not falling down. Something hovering can have lateral and/or vertical motion (like the "hovercars" and "hoverboards") or stay in one place, perhaps the more natural interpretation. It might be hovering under its own efforts, like a hummingbird or flyboard; due to some upward force, like a balloon over a vent; or by some apparently unexplained mechanism, like a magic carpet...

Next, these two seem to me to correspond to the image I think you were describing in your comment: an object (rocket or no) flies up into the air, reaches its apogee, and appears to pause for a second before beginning to fall:

Hanging in midair: As if it were hanging by an invisible thread. Can be used of objects permanently hanging, or ones that simply appear to be in this position for a second or two.

Suspended in midair: When you consider that "to hang by a thread" means "to be suspended by a thread", you see the equivalence of this expression. I'd say that it's slightly less imaginative than "hanging" and seems a little more readily to imply literal suspension.

I skimmed FumbleFingers' answer too quickly at first and didn't even notice that the following two words are the same by which hover is defined in MW.

Stoppage of motion

Stopping in midair: Suggests perhaps a plane engine that ceases to work while the plane is in flight. The plane will not be "stopped" in the sense of motionless, though. In that other sense of "stop", there seems to be a longer timeframe implied, hence a physical impossibility.

Halting in midair: About the same analysis as "stop".

Holding in midair: "Hold" has two senses that could fit here: "halt" (but this is an archaic sense of "hold") and "keep (one's course)", like a plane. In fact, I'm probably thinking of the latter because of expressions like "holding pattern". However, there's no stoppage in midair for this one.

Freezing in midair: Much like the second sense of "stop", this implies a longer timeframe and hence a physical impossibility. It certainly doesn't imply "having difficulty keeping that position"; someone "frozen" is understood to be paralyzed and powerless.

Staying in midair: A little awkward, but comprehensible. It doesn't imply a lack of motion, however. It just means that the thing stays aloft and doesn't fall to earth.

(Speaking of which) Aloft: An adjective, but possibly a useful one for your purpose. It implies neither stopped nor continuous motion, just that something is airborne.

Continuity of motion

Coasting through the air: Moving laterally; whether slowly or not, this is not under its own power but on residual momentum. (When you stop pedalling on a bike and just keep rolling forward, you're also "coasting".)

Drifting through the air: Slowly moving laterally, possibly also vertically but mainly laterally (lest we should just say it was "falling").

Floating in/through the air: Floating in the air is about the same as drifting. Both connote the exact opposite of "having difficulty keeping that position". The sorts of things that float in the air are fireflies or "white cottony stuff", which should give you a sense of the effortlessness implied by the term.

I think those are your main options besides a paraphrase, or an ontological reexamination. For example, when you say in your comment that bees and helicopters "hover but don't have difficulty doing so" and so don't fit the criteria, I'm not sure what other example you have in mind that is actively expending a lot of energy to maintain its place in the air. A hummingbird, perhaps, but who knows if a hummingbird finds its job harder than a bee does?

If we were talking about futuristic technology, one expression we might adapt for such a purpose is "treading water"... I could imagine saying that someone is "treading air" to stay in one place, while wearing some special equipment or other.

To take another stab at what you're looking for, one very specific term for talking about having difficulty staying in the air is when a bird beats its wings rather than flaps them. A bird that flaps its wings is performing a lazier, more casual action, one performed with larger wings, perhaps — whereas a bird that beats its wings is expending more energy. For example, an injured hawk trying not to fall to the ground might "furiously beat its wings". (Incidentally, hummingbirds also beat, not flap, their wings.)

Meanwhile, two good all-purpose terms for doing something with difficulty are work hard and labour. If you're in some kind of pedal-powered flying machine, you might well be "labouring to stay in one place" in the sense of holding your position in the air. You wouldn't be motionless, of course, but you might nevertheless keep from locomoting.

  • It would seem you have proven my point with all your examples. The only thing that can be 100% motionless in the air, is something hanging, like say, from a rope. That might possibly be possible in a place with zero air currents.
    – Lambie
    Sep 4 '17 at 16:11
  • @Lambie Agreed, and it's for that reason, I think, that the words "hang" and "suspend" came to mind first for the rocket / other object at its apogee, motionless for a split second just before falling. Sep 4 '17 at 20:12
  • Indeed. And when you see the motionless, you often sees: it hung motionless in the air [before crashing back to the earth below]. For example. :)
    – Lambie
    Sep 5 '17 at 16:04

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