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  1. an instrument for threshing grain, consisting of a staff or handle to one end of which is attached a freely swinging stick or bar.
  2. a similar instrument used as a weapon of war.
verb (used with or without object)
  1. to beat or swing with or as if with a flail.

Origin of flail

before 1100; Middle English fleil (noun), Old English flighel (probably misspelling of *flegil), cognate with Dutch vlegel, German Flegel < West Germanic *flagil- < Late Latin flagellum flail, Latin: whip, scourge. See flagellum
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for flail

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • The scythe, the sickle, and the flail were the same as their forbears had used for centuries.

  • He had one cop in his left arm, using him as a flail against the others.

    Police Your Planet

    Lester del Rey

  • Do you like the sound of the line, “I wield the flail of the lashing hail”?

  • Theodoric of Engedi, you know, the Flail of the Desert, that's a splendid one to do.

    Margaret Montfort

    Laura E. Richards

  • Later still he was threshing some of this corn with a flail.

    Change in the Village

    (AKA George Bourne) George Sturt

British Dictionary definitions for flail


  1. an implement used for threshing grain, consisting of a wooden handle with a free-swinging metal or wooden bar attached to it
  2. a weapon so shaped used in the Middle Ages
  1. (tr) to beat or thrash with or as if with a flail
  2. to move or be moved like a flail; thresh aboutwith arms flailing

Word Origin

C12 fleil, ultimately from Late Latin flagellum flail, from Latin: whip
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

Word Origin and History for flail


"implement for threshing grain," c.1100, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English *flegel, which probably represents West Germanic *flagil (cf. Middle Dutch and Low German vlegel, Old High German flegel, German flegel), a borrowing of Late Latin flagellum "winnowing tool, flail," from Latin flagellum "whip" (see flagellum).


15c., from flail (n.); originally "to scourge;" sense of "to move like a flail" is from 1874. Related: Flailed; flailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

flail in Medicine


([object Object])
  1. To move vigorously or erratically; thrash about.
  2. To strike or lash out violently.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

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