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I'm trying to find a proper word for russian 'шатать' (to cause a wobble, to sway, to rock) in context of causing possible damage or instability due to unexpected movements.

The literal meaning of the question I'm trying to translate is 'who make changes in the stand and unintentionally cause something to become unstable?' The closest I can invent is 'Who wobbled the stand', but 'to wobble' is non-transitive. What is transitive word for 'to wobble'? Would 'who swayed the stand?' convey idea of 'make it unstable'?

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    I take issue with the assertion 'to wobble' is non-transitive. I won't bother looking for a specific dictionary definition mentioning what is after all a relatively uncommon usage, but in total there are an awful lot of written instances of he wobbled it in Google Books. So to some extent the question is Off Topic because it's based on a false premise. OR you could just choose a near-equivalent term such as jiggle, wiggle that's more often used transitively. Jan 27 at 12:13
  • (Or use more words, as in He made it wobble, to avoid the implication that the wobbling was primarily being caused as part of a method intended to move it to a different place, rather than just wobbling in situ.) Jan 27 at 12:17
  • I like jiggle. 'Who jiggled the stand?' Jan 27 at 12:17
  • The man himself is "persona non grata" nowadays, but I always liked Rolf Harris's wobble board (that's him playing it at the Royal Albert Hall many decades ago). I'm intrigued to have just learned from Google that "wobble board" is the only name for it with any real currency, and that apparently Rolf Harris himself "invented" this particular "musical instrument". Jan 27 at 12:23
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    Using wobble transitively sounds very strange to me. Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I see from Ngrams that "he wobbled it" only exploded in popularity post-2005.
    – stangdon
    Jan 27 at 15:55

3 Answers 3

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You're absolutely correct that 'wobble' is both a verb for the action of wobbling and causing something else to wobble.

"I wobbled the stand" is fine.

This is very common with English verbs:

  • I shook the tree / the tree shook
  • I moved the table / the table moved
  • I wobbled my tooth / my tooth is wobbling
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    If something is meant to be fixed in place, or hard to move, and it isn't, such as an electric plug or lamp bulb in a socket or holder, or part of a machine meant to fit tightly, we can say 'You can wobble it', as well as 'it wobbles', especially if it doesn't normally wobble by itself. Jan 27 at 12:36
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    @MichaelHarvey I think that confuses the matter somewhat - you might 'agitate' something you can hold in your hand, like a bottle. 'Wobbling' is very specifically used in connection with things that are normally stable, rooted on the ground or a surface. I've looked at synonyms and I wouldn't want to advise any non-English speaker to use any of them in place of it. "Totter", for example, is for things that walk. Plus I don't see what is so informal about it - the 'Chandler Wobble' is a technical term for the deviation in the Earth's axis of rotation. And 'wobble-plate' is an engineering term.
    – Astralbee
    Jan 27 at 14:58
  • Verbs which exhibit this curious subject-object switching are called labile verbs.
    – Kevin
    Jan 27 at 22:30
  • I know the OP accepted the answer, but the question sounded like they were looking to convey the idea that something became wobbly, independent of whether it was actually wobbling.
    – chepner
    Jan 27 at 23:06
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Further to @Fumble Fingers' comment - the Oxford English Dictionary lists five senses, and four sub-senses of the verb to wobble. All of them are described as intransitive, save one - sense 1e - which is transitive.

1e. e. transitive. To cause to move or rock unsteadily from side to side or backwards and forwards.

The earliest example of its use is from 1816, and the most recent from 1998.

1998 H. Mantel Giant, O'Brien (1999) xi. 166 He carefully inspected the chair with the dint. He frowned over it, wobbled it from side to side.

So the answer to your question is clearly to use wobble transitively.

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A wobble is a specific type of cyclical, circular motion. A spinning plate wobbles as it settles down onto a flat surface. A spinning top wobbles as it slows down and no longer spins on a perfectly vertical axis. Just ask an astronomer -- the earth and many celestial bodies have a wobble, and these can be so precisely measured that we can predict their motion years into the future.

Just knocking into something does not give it a wobble. So in your translation, you may want to say "Who moved the stand" or "Who bumped the stand?" The idea being that the stand was moved out of position, not that it was sent into a slowly decaying spinning dance.

I would not use wobble as a direct action. No one in U.S. English "wobbles" something. I have never heard that or read it, ever. They might cause something to wobble, or watch it wobble, or start it wobbling, or scream as the plate wobbled over the edge of the table. But they would not wobble something.

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