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[noo-tey-shuh n, nyoo-] /nuˈteɪ ʃən, nyu-/
an act or instance of nodding one's head, especially involuntarily or spasmodically.
Botany. spontaneous movements of plant parts during growth.
Astronomy. the periodic oscillation observed in the precession of the earth's axis and the precession of the equinoxes.
Mechanics. the variation of the inclination of the axis of a gyroscope to the vertical.
Origin of nutation
1605-15; < Latin nūtātiōn- (stem of nūtātiō), equivalent to nūtāt(us) (past participle of nūtāre to nod repeatedly; nū- nod + -tā- frequentative suffix + -tus past participle ending) + -iōn- -ion; cf. numen
Related forms
nutational, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for nutation
Historical Examples
  • It was to these qualities that he owed his discoveries of the aberration of light and the nutation of the earth's axis.

  • The position of the equinox independent of the effects of nutation.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • In the case of nutation the North Pole remains in the same geographical position, but points to a different part of the heavens.

    Astronomical Discovery Herbert Hall Turner
  • Sometimes this path is loopy, and its little nods correspond to nutation.

    Pioneers of Science Oliver Lodge
  • Many growing stems have also a movement of nutation, that is, of nodding successively in different directions.

  • This is scientifically denominated the nutation of the earth.

    Everyday Objects W. H. Davenport Adams
  • It is affected by the motions of Precession and nutation, of which the former has been known since the time of Hipparchus.

  • This led him to the discovery of the “aberration” of light and of nutation.

    History of Astronomy George Forbes
  • This is the position for any day which it seems to occupy in the heavens, as affected with aberration and nutation.

    The Sailor's Word-Book William Henry Smyth
  • Bradley also discovered that the positions of the stars were affected by the wabbling of the earth's axis, called its "nutation."

    Astronomy for Young Folks Isabel Martin Lewis
British Dictionary definitions for nutation


(astronomy) a periodic variation in the precession of the earth's axis causing the earth's poles to oscillate about their mean position
(physics) a periodic variation in the uniform precession of the axis of any spinning body, such as a gyroscope, about the horizontal
Also called circumnutation. the spiral growth of a shoot, tendril, or similar plant organ, caused by variation in the growth rate in different parts
the act or an instance of nodding the head
Derived Forms
nutational, adjective
Word Origin
C17: from Latin nutātiō, from nūtāre to nod
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for nutation

1610s, "action of nodding," from Latin nutationem (nominative nutatio), noun of action from past participle stem of nutare "to nod," from PIE *neu- "to nod" (see numinous). Astronomical use is from 1715. Related: Nutational.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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nutation in Medicine

nutation nu·ta·tion (nōō-tā'shən, nyōō-)
The act of nodding the head, especially involuntarily.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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nutation in Science
  1. A small, cyclic variation of the Earth's axis of rotation with a period of 18.6 years, caused by tidal forces (mostly due to the gravity of the Moon). Nutation is a small and relatively rapid oscillation of the axis superimposed on the larger and much slower oscillation known as precession. Although discovered in 1728 by the British astronomer James Bradley (1693-1762), nutation was not explained until two decades later.

  2. A slight curving or circular movement in a stem, as of a twining plant, caused by irregular growth rates of different parts.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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