[ fleyl ]
/ fleɪl /
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an instrument for threshing grain, consisting of a staff or handle with a freely swinging stick or bar attached to one end of it.
a similar instrument used as a weapon of war.
verb (used without object)
to move about randomly and wildly: Running down to the lake I hit a patch of mud and found myself flailing all over the path, arms and legs flying.
to make desperate or unproductive attempts to respond to a challenging problem, awkward situation, etc. (usually followed by around or about): He makes things worse by flailing about with administrative solutions to educational problems he doesn't understand.For six years the government flailed, proposing one ineffectual program after another.
verb (used with object)
to thresh (grain) with a flail: Together they managed to clear land, seed wheat, flail the grain by hand, and grind it into flour.
to beat, strike, attack, etc., repeatedly with or as if with a flail: I flailed the water with a variety of lures for hours, and caught three bass.The infantry closed in while artillery support flailed the enemy positions.
to move (a limb, one’s body, etc.) randomly and wildly (often followed by around or about): Gasping and choking, he flailed a hand in my general direction.
to swing (something) about as if using a flail: She violently flailed the flare around, trying to catch the attention of the figure on the hill.
(of a limb or joint of the body) having excessive or abnormal mobility due to loss of muscle control as the result of injury or disease: The orthopedist studied hundreds of cases of post-polio flail shoulder.
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Origin of flail
First recorded before 1100; Middle English fleil (noun), Old English flighel (probably misspelling of unattested flegil ), cognate with Dutch vlegel, German Flegel, from unattested West Germanic flagil-, from Late Latin flagellum “flail,” Latin: “whip, scourge”; see flagellum
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023
How to use flail in a sentence
Paul first quietly flailed for cover, before publicly stating his support for lifting the embargo the next day.Presidential Hopeful Rand Paul Backs Obama on Cuba Deal|Olivia Nuzzi|December 18, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Perhaps the WWE can succeed where the finest diplomatic minds have so far flailed.Putin Vs. Obama—In Spandex: Wrestling’s New Cold War|Tim Teeman|May 14, 2014|DAILY BEAST
Braced on his strong, short legs Gunnar flailed them like wheat.Hunters Out of Space|Joseph Everidge Kelleam
The crew swarmed like furious ants, and a white officer in dirty ducks flailed amid the riot.Where the Pavement Ends|John Russell
The tense wings flailed, caught air, and brought the hippogriff upright again.The Piebald Hippogriff|Karen Anderson
The tail revolved for a third time, and with the energy of despair he flailed the ground with it.Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete|Charles M. Skinner
Daniel the Mystic's long arms flew and flailed wildly in air and his mane of hair tossed.Back Home|Irvin S. Cobb
British Dictionary definitions for flail
/ (fleɪl) /
an implement used for threshing grain, consisting of a wooden handle with a free-swinging metal or wooden bar attached to it
a weapon so shaped used in the Middle Ages
(tr) to beat or thrash with or as if with a flail
to move or be moved like a flail; thresh aboutwith arms flailing
Word Origin for flail
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