What's the best way to describe the movement you do with your finger when you want to mime something that rotates, such as the spinning rotors of a helicopter? I guess it's the same movement that you do close to your ear when you want to say that someone is not mentally sane.

I looked several words up in the dictionary and ran ngram searches, and these are what I think should be the best, and most usual, ways to do so.

She twirled her finger in the air.

She twirled her finger around.

She rotated her finger in the air.

My questions are:

  • Are these sentences correct? Are there better ways to describe this action?
  • Is there a substantial difference between the verb "rotate" and "twirl" in this specific example?
  • Is "in the air" better than "around"? Could I omit both or do they add clarity?
  • To my ear, "twirl" is not quite right because it implies speed and grace, and I at least do not look like a vision of speed and grace when I rotate my finger. (of course that is true no matter what I do.) I am not saying "twirl" is wrong; it just seems to me that "rotate" or "circled with" are a bit more natural. Jul 11, 2021 at 15:35
  • Not exactly a duplicate? ell.stackexchange.com/questions/52561/… Jul 11, 2021 at 15:38
  • No, because you twirl something that is unconnected to you, unless of course, you are saying twirling a lock of hair with your finger.
    – Lambie
    Jul 11, 2021 at 15:45
  • 1
    twirled is fine, but so is She circled her finger in the air. And that doesn't require you to learn a new word. Jul 11, 2021 at 17:16
  • 1
    "Twirl your finger" is the right one for the action you describe
    – gotube
    Jul 12, 2021 at 2:14

1 Answer 1


Twirling or twiddling. I'm from Texas where we tend to say

twiddling yer fingers

A LOT, lol

Rotated? No, I think not. It's not as descriptive; it's easier to get a mental picture of twirling fingers and twiddling than rotating. I disagree with circled bc that's simply making a circle. The act of twiddling/twirling the fingers is more complex and implies more (i.e. twirling your fingers next to your head implies crazy).

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