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See more synonyms for flail on Thesaurus.com
  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.
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verb (used with or without object)
  1. to beat or swing with or as if with a flail.
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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

Related Words


Examples from the Web for flailing

Contemporary Examples

Historical Examples

  • Desperately he tried to struggle loose, flailing with his legs—but useless.

    Raiders Invisible

    Desmond Winter Hall

  • He struggled, blind with fury, flailing his arms and kicking.


    Robert Shea

  • His cane had ceased its flailing; the crowd had partially ceased its uproar.

  • For these were the blocks that had formed the body of the monster of the hollow, its flailing arms.

  • I thought I saw Norhala floating, clothed in shouting, flailing fires.

British Dictionary definitions for flailing


  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
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  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
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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 flailing



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

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"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).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

flailing in Medicine


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