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[weyl] /weɪl/
verb (used without object)
to utter a prolonged, inarticulate, mournful cry, usually high-pitched or clear-sounding, as in grief or suffering:
to wail with pain.
to make mournful sounds, as music or the wind.
to lament or mourn bitterly.
Jazz. to perform exceptionally well.
Slang. to express emotion musically or verbally in an exciting, satisfying way.
verb (used with object)
to express deep sorrow for; mourn; lament; bewail:
to wail the dead; to wail one's fate.
to express in wailing; cry or say in lamentation:
to wail one's grief.
the act of wailing.
a wailing cry, as of grief, pain, or despair.
any similar mournful sound:
the wail of an old tune.
Origin of wail
1300-50; Middle English weile (v. and noun), perhaps derivative of Old English weilā(wei) well-away; compare Old English wǣlan to torment, Old Norse wǣla to wail
Related forms
wailer, noun
wailingly, adverb
unwailed, adjective
unwailing, adjective
Can be confused
wail, whale. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for wail
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • If this concord be rejected and the lust of war prevail, Soon within these ancient chambers will resound the sound of wail!

    Maha-bharata Anonymous
  • He will be curious about the wail, and will return to investigate it.

    David and the Phoenix Edward Ormondroyd
  • Our hearts were not so firmly strung to wail notes of grief and woe.

  • The poor woman burst into tears and uttered a wail of despair.

    The Silver Lining John Roussel
  • Mercy:—I dreamt that I lay in some lone wood to weep and wail, for that my heart should be so hard a one.

  • Since midnight not a sound out of her, not a wail, 95 not a sob.

    The Pagan Madonna Harold MacGrath
  • She began to cry and wail and said, "I told you I wanted such a fish, and yet you let him go; I am sure you do not love me."

    Europa's Fairy Book Joseph Jacobs
  • She braced herself to restrain a wail of sorrow if she saw his disillusionment.

    The Explorer W. Somerset Maugham
British Dictionary definitions for wail


(intransitive) to utter a prolonged high-pitched cry, as of grief or misery
(intransitive) to make a sound resembling such a cry: the wind wailed in the trees
(transitive) to lament, esp with mournful sounds
a prolonged high-pitched mournful cry or sound
Derived Forms
wailer, noun
wailful, adjective
wailfully, adverb
Word Origin
C14: of Scandinavian origin; related to Old Norse vǣla to wail, Old English woe
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 wail

early 14c., from Old Norse væla "to lament," from "woe" (see woe). Of jazz musicians, "to play very well," attested from 1955, American English slang (wailing "excellent" is attested from 1954). Related: Wailed.


c.1400; see wail (v.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Slang definitions & phrases for wail



  1. To play jazz well and feelingly: We were wailing, but nobody had a tape machine (1930s+ Jazz musicians)
  2. (also whale) To do very well; perform well (1950s+ College students fr cool talk fr jazz musicians)

[fr the notion of a well-performed blues number, with its melodious lamentations]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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