It's flying...but not actually flying. It's waving...I'm not sure!

I want to describe when wind flows, certain things 'fly'? or 'wave'?

If the fan is directed to Mike, his hair will _________


Clothes kept on a string for drying will _____ if wind blows harder. [Note -clothes won't get OFF the string, they'll just fly/wave/???]

[In my mother tongue, it's the same word that we have for birds -fly]

My concern is something 'flying' is actually flying without any support [bird flying, aircraft flying]. When the thing is stuck to its source (a scalp for hair, and a string for clothes), does the term 'fly' fit?

3 Answers 3


It really depends on what you're talking about.

We do actually use fly to describe things that are up in the air but not literally flying, most notably, for flags.

As to the specific examples, there are many options. Including ones you note, there's flap, flutter, float, blow, billow, dance, ripple... and many more. It's all about what sort of emotion or feeling you want to give.

For example, pieces of fabric such as a curtain or sheet might be described to billow:

The curtains billowed in the breeze.

Or, in a stiffer breeze, to flutter:

Flags fluttered in the breeze.

If you want to be fancy, you could even say something like:

The clothes danced on the drying line.

This gives a very fun and energetic feel, the opposite of billow.

Hair, on the other hand, would probably float in a soft breeze or fly in a stiff wind.

When the breeze blew, her hair floated in front her her eyes, hiding them from my vision.

Her hair flew into her face as the wind blew around her.

Whichever word you use is part of the artistry of the English language. As you see above, words relating to both air and water movement are possible, and it's largely a matter of personal preference. If you start trying things out, be sure you are able to visualize the movement you're trying to describe.

  • A nice and thorough answer.
    – Khan
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 7:38

Hair that is moved about by the wind is said to be "blowing in the wind". Photographers often employ fans to give a model's hair a "wind-blown look".

Clothes hanging on a line do indeed wave in a wind, or even flap (fold in and out, making a slapping, snapping or whipping sound.) These degrees all fall under the description of "blowing in the wind".

  • fill in the blank please
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 6:44
  • 1
    Forcing people to "fill in the blank" makes it so you might not get the best or most natural way of expressing something. I think we should let answerers describe how they'd express something without that sort of limitation.
    – user230
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 7:33
  • Fill in the blank is important for me as I am looking for a 'verb' and people may come up with idiomatic answers (as this asnwer) that could be 'idioms', 'phrases' etc. If you see 'tags', I wrote word request. @snailboat
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 8:26
  • MaulikV - @snailboat is correct. The verb wave works fine - but not by itself. Getty images will back me up. This is waving. This is waving in the wind
    – J.R.
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 17:43

IMO, it is flapping movement of hair or clothes.

The Free Dictionary has an entry for this: flap

If the fan is directed to Mike, his hair will flap.


Clothes kept on a string for drying will flap if wind blows harder.

I am not a native speaker, but to my mind, flapping movement is a suitable word for such movement.

  • fill in the blank please
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 6:44
  • while I buy your 'flap' for clothes, for 'hair' I'm quite skeptical. The reason is, I remember 'flapping sound' which means sound created by something moving back and forth mainly due to wind. So, clothes may flap but hair flapping...I'm not sure...maybe, natives answer it better. but thanks anyway! :)
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 6:55
  • 'flapping of hair' has an entry in "The Sun Child" story, as: "Wait, it is not the leaves, it's the flapping of hair in the wind." Please check
    – Rucheer M
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 7:04
  • True that...see there.. 'sound'. That's what I said. But I'm confused now... if a table fan is directed to me, do my hair 'flap'? Do they make sound? This is getting interesting!
    – Maulik V
    Commented May 4, 2015 at 7:10
  • 1
    RuchirM, your citation is fan fiction written by a non-native speaker, so it doesn't really demonstrate that hair "flapping" is Standard English. @MaulikV I'm skeptical of hair flapping, too. I guess when I hear the word "flap", I think of something with a surface that can catch the wind, like a sheet of paper, a wing, or a flag. Hair doesn't really seem like it can do that, at least to me personally. (I don't know, maybe another speaker would say think it's fine.)
    – user230
    Commented May 5, 2015 at 6:03

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