[ fley ]
/ fleɪ /
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See synonyms for: flay / flayed on Thesaurus.com

verb (used with object)
to strip off the skin or outer covering of.
to criticize or scold with scathing severity.
to deprive or strip of money or property.
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Origin of flay

before 900; Middle English flen,Old English flēan; cognate with Middle Dutch vlaen,Old Norse flā


flayer, nounun·flayed, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023


What does flay mean?

To flay is to strip off the skin or outer covering of something. Flay is most commonly used metaphorically to refer to severely criticizing someone. It can also mean to cheat or deprive someone of money or property.

The original, literal meaning of flay typically referred to removing the skin of an animal. Flay can also refer to removing the skin of a human, especially as a form of torture by whipping. Neither of its literal senses are commonly used anymore, except perhaps in fiction.

Example: People on social media love to flay celebrities who are caught doing the opposite of what they always tell other people to do.

Where does flay come from?

Flay is an old word. The first records of it come from before the 900s. It comes from the Old English flēan, which is related to the Old Norse word flā, meaning “to peel.”

The literal sense of flay typically refers to removing an animal’s skin to make leather or to prepare it for butchering, but this has largely been replaced with other terms, such as the verb skin. Thankfully, nowadays the flaying of humans is largely reserved for fictional stories or graphic expressions, as in If my teacher ever caught me sleeping in class, he would flay me alive.

Today, flay most often means to harshly criticize someone, especially in an unmerciful and thorough way—to really roast them, to use another metaphor. Flay is most often used this way when such criticism happens in a public forum, such as in the press or on social media. The target of such flaying is typically a celebrity, politician, or other public figure, such as one revealed to be guilty of being a hypocrite.

The similar-sounding word fillet means “a boneless cut of fish or meat” or “to prepare such a cut.”

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What are some other forms related to flay?

  • flayer (noun)
  • flayed (adjective)
  • unflayed (adjective)

What are some synonyms for flay?

What are some words that often get used in discussing flay?

What are some words flay may be commonly confused with?

How is flay used in real life?

Flay isn’t commonly used in a literal way. Today, when someone flays someone, it’s typically by roasting them on social media.



Try using flay!

Is flay used correctly in the following sentence?

She got absolutely flayed by the media during the scandal.

How to use flay in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for flay

/ (fleɪ) /

verb (tr)
to strip off the skin or outer covering of, esp by whipping; skin
to attack with savage criticism
to strip of money or goods, esp by cheating or extortion

Derived forms of flay

flayer, noun

Word Origin for flay

Old English flēan; related to Old Norse flā to peel, Lithuanian pl e šti to tear
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