\ ˈflāl How to pronounce flail (audio) \

Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a hand threshing implement consisting of a wooden handle at the end of which a stouter and shorter stick is so hung as to swing freely


flailed; flailing; flails

Definition of flail (Entry 2 of 2)

transitive verb

1a : to strike with or as if with a flail The bird's wings flailed the water.
b : to move, swing, or beat as if wielding a flail flailing a club to drive away the insects
2 : to thresh (grain) with a flail

intransitive verb

: to move, swing, or beat like a flail arms flailing in the water

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Synonyms for flail

Synonyms: Verb

beat, flap, flop, flutter, whip

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Examples of flail in a Sentence


They were flailing their arms to drive away the insects. The wounded animal lay on the ground, flailing helplessly. He was wildly flailing about on the dance floor. The bird's wings flailed the water.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun

For good measure, still in mid-flail, LeBron takes a gratuitous swipe at Bogey’s face. Gregg Doyel, Indianapolis Star, "Doyel: Who can stop LeBron? No one. But Pacers Bogdanovic has done a better job than most.," 17 Apr. 2018 Included in the anatomical arsenal were tails that evolved to act like flails, spikes, bats and clubs. Nicholas St. Fleur, New York Times, "Where Did Animals With Tail Weapons Go? Here’s a Back Story," 16 Jan. 2018 Among the tactics, no shtick is simultaneously as eye-catching and absurd as the spastic flail of a perky nylon tube with vaguely human features. Eric Tingwall, Car and Driver, "How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls Off Those Fresh Moves," 17 Oct. 2017 To president Trump and his administration, the quest for tax reform looks like repeal and replace (i.e. flail and disgrace) all over again. Eric Levitz, Daily Intelligencer, "Trump Is Afraid His Tax Plan Is Doomed. He Should Be.," 18 Oct. 2017 Outdoors, its interactions with the wind give the inflatable its erratic flail. Eric Tingwall, Car and Driver, "How the Wacky Waving Inflatable Tube Man Pulls Off Those Fresh Moves," 17 Oct. 2017 With two outs, Bauer toyed with Javier Baez, throwing a 1-0 strike past him before throwing consecutive pitches way out of the strike zone and watching the young second baseman flail at them wildly to end the inning. Benjamin Hoffman And David Waldstein, New York Times, "World Series: Here’s How the Chicago Cubs Won Game 5," 30 Oct. 2016 Scott appears on one mediocre chorus after another, and the rest of rap's younger generation flail along with him. Maeve Mcdermott, USA TODAY, "Beyond its singles, DJ Khaled's 'Grateful' is 90 minutes of pain," 23 June 2017 For Christina Mallon, who has what doctors think is a rare form of A.L.S. (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) called flail arm syndrome, every task can become a challenge. Valeriya Safronova, New York Times, "Designing for All Abilities," 9 May 2017

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

The defending champions had spent the last month flailing about, losing 10 of their previous 17 games while lending credence to the notion that the grind of three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals was catching up with them. Mike Finger, San Antonio Express-News, "In blaming themselves, Spurs avoid ugly truth," 14 Apr. 2018 Once Obama left office, so did the excuse for flailing hopelessly against repeal. Philip Bump, Washington Post, "The Republicans had Obamacare. The Democrats have net neutrality.," 16 Jan. 2018 With Edge flailing helplessly, Hardy ascended the ladder and took the belt, taunting his longtime rival in the process. Gene Guillot, NOLA.com, "Best New Orleans wrestling matches: Jeff Hardy vs. Edge (2009) climbed ladder of success," 29 Jan. 2018 Already flailing offensively, the Bucks never recovered against one of the top defenses in the league. Matt Velazquez, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Raptors 129, Bucks 110: Torched in the third quarter in blowout," 5 Jan. 2018 The natural tendency in this position will be to flail your arms and kick your heels to power your body back up, says Stokes, but the goal is to fight that and keep your body compressed as tightly around the ball as possible. Jenny Mccoy, SELF, "Ashley Graham Strengthens Her Core With This Surprisingly Challenging 'Rolling' Move," 22 Mar. 2019 The ball landed at the feet of Martin Peters, who despatched it clinically past the flailing arms of the goalkeeper. SI.com, "World Cup Countdown: 3 Days to Go - What if Gordon Banks Hadn’t Fallen Ill Before the Quarter Final?," 11 June 2018 Coupled with a flailing bullpen that owned baseball’s worst ERA, the Royals’ offense bore a hefty chunk of the blame. Maria Torres, kansascity, "'Keep getting on and we'll get guys in': How the Royals beat the Tigers 8-5 | The Kansas City Star," 22 Apr. 2018 Spurs substitute Erik Lamela saw a finish blocked by the flailing leg of Stephens before a chance fell to Saints substitute Michael Obafemi. USA TODAY, "Southampton frustrates Spurs, Harry Kane scores 99th EPL goal in draw," 21 Jan. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'flail.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of flail


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


15th century, in the meaning defined at transitive sense 1a

History and Etymology for flail

Noun and Verb

Middle English fleil, flail, partly from Old English *flegel (whence Old English fligel), from Late Latin flagellum flail, from Latin, whip & partly from Anglo-French flael, from Late Latin flagellum — more at flagellate

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Statistics for flail

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Time Traveler for flail

The first known use of flail was before the 12th century

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More Definitions for flail



English Language Learners Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: a long-handled tool that was used in the past for beating wheat so that the grain would become separated from the wheat



English Language Learners Definition of flail (Entry 2 of 2)

: to move or swing your arms or legs in a wild and uncontrolled way
: to strike or hit (something or someone) in a wild and uncontrolled way


\ ˈflāl How to pronounce flail (audio) \
flailed; flailing

Kids Definition of flail

 (Entry 1 of 2)

1 : to wave the arms or legs wildly
2 : to swing something with a violent motion



Kids Definition of flail (Entry 2 of 2)

: a tool for threshing grain by hand


\ ˈflā(ə)l How to pronounce flail (audio) \

Medical Definition of flail

: exhibiting abnormal mobility and loss of response to normal controls used of body parts damaged by paralysis, injury, or surgery flail joint

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More from Merriam-Webster on flail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with flail

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for flail

Spanish Central: Translation of flail

Nglish: Translation of flail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about flail

Comments on flail

What made you want to look up flail? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


something valued as if it were money

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