When a strong foul smell is around you or smoke enters your nose and you begin waving your hands from side to side trying to scatter it away, what verb is used to describe this kind of motion in these types of sentences?:

I started waving(?) my hands when he began smoking near me because of the smoke.

He noticed that I knew he farted because I started to swing (?) my hands to drive the smell away.

I tried to find a verb, but none of the examples in dictionaries to which I have access showed the verbs being used for this specific context. Neither flap, nor wave, nor swing, nor sway, nor fan (that seems to fit only when you have a fan in your hands).

The closest match I could get was in one of the definitions proposed by Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary, on the website TheFreeDicitonary:

‘swing’: 3. to move (the hand or something held) with an oscillating or rotary movement.

That last definition does not come with an example inserted in the aforesaid context, though.

4 Answers 4


Another word you could use is "disperse".

Definition (verb): distribute or spread over a wide area

I used my hand to disperse the smoke coming from his cigarette.

We all plugged our noses and fanned our faces to disperse the terrible scent coming from their sneakers.

  • 1
    Yes. Wave + disperse is what OP is looking for.
    – mcalex
    Nov 16, 2021 at 6:13
  • Thank you so much for your invaluable contributions everyone!! @AmandaMaring
    – Rafael
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:37

To circulate air using one's hands or a tool is to fan.

It's a bit odd to say "X is fanning" without specifying what's unwelcome. So probably more idiomatic will be saying "X fans away Y" with Y being the bad smell.

  • 2
    "I started fanning myself with my hand..." Nov 15, 2021 at 9:18
  • 1
    "Dispel by fanning/waving/with my hands ..." Nov 15, 2021 at 12:21
  • A quick web search for "fanning his/her face" provides lots of supporting images
    – barbecue
    Nov 16, 2021 at 20:31
  • Thank you so much for your invaluable contributions everyone!! @LawrenceC
    – Rafael
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:36

To my knowledge (as a native speaker) there is no single word that can convey this idea. Not that we can't describe it, just that we need more than one word to do so. You are closest with waving– it's just that you need to further describe how you are waving your hands, or where you are waving them.

“I started waving my hands in front of my nose when he began smoking near me1.”

“I started waving away the stench/smoke2 when he began smoking near me.”

1: Note that I removed "because of the smoke" for being excessively redundant.

2: "stench" is highly preferred in this specific sentence, because "smoke" would be redundant, but "waving away the smoke" is a good generic phrase if you are not also specifying that someone starting smoking. You could use "I waved away the smoke as I entered the bar" for instance.

In this sentence above, if you don't specify the location of the wave, or the purpose of the wave, it could easily be misinterpreted as "waving hello" instead of the intended gesture.

In your second sentence you are already halfway there– you included the purpose, but used the incorrect word "swing" instead of the correct "wave".

“He noticed that I knew he farted because I started to wave my hands to drive the smell away.”

Swing is incorrect because this verb doesn't actually include the back and forth motion, but rather simply the act of movement being tethered to a rotational point, and not making a complete circuit. Sorry, that's a complicated way to explain that "A single swing only goes in one direction". For example, if I "swing my fist at your face" it describes a single punch, without describing pulling back afterwards.

To use "swing" to describe an oscillation motion requires you to modify it to the continuous tense "swinging", or to use additional words to specify the oscillation: "swing back and forth". However, even this tense is not correct for the motion you want to describe, because the continuous "swinging" verb conveys the idea that the swinging is not powered by anything. If you drop a weight on a string, it will swing back and forth, but eventually slow down and stop because it isn't being propelled.

  • Thank you so much for your invaluable contributions!! @RichardWinters
    – Rafael
    Nov 25, 2021 at 19:36

Perhaps "waft" to cause to move gently through the air.

You can use it to mean gently move the smoke away from your face:

I wafted the smoke away from me when he started smoking next to me.

Or you can use the "wafting gesture", without really intending to move anything.

I know he knew that I'd farted because he began to waft the air in front of his face.

  • 6
    "Waft" is absolutely not correct-- waft means to gently cause the smell to float in the air, not to vigorously scatter it away from yourself. Creating the smoke may waft it in someone's direction, creating the fart may waft the stench into the air, but waving your hand in front of your nose will never "waft" anything. Nov 14, 2021 at 23:52
  • 3
    I originally thought of waft, however, waft carries with it the sense of gentleness, not exactly what OP is asking.
    – Tim
    Nov 15, 2021 at 8:27
  • 1
    While the literal meaning of waft did refer to a gentle motion, it isn't a great fit for repelling odor because it has a typical use of bringing odors to your nose with your hand.
    – Mike M
    Nov 15, 2021 at 11:46
  • 1
    I would say that things can waft away from or towards you (carried by a breeze) and you can waft things towards yourself, but wafting things away from yourself sounds wrong
    – llama
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:25
  • 4
    Like @llama: I think of waft as more passive. A smell wafts towards me, I don't waft it away.
    – Flydog57
    Nov 15, 2021 at 17:32

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