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


2 of 2


flailed; flailing; flails

transitive verb

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

intransitive verb

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

Examples of flail in a Sentence

Verb 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.
Recent Examples on the Web
Renée Zellweger is set to return as the lovable but flailing at life Jones as is Hugh Grant as rapscallion Daniel Cleaver. Borys Kit, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Apr. 2024 All around him, the Spirit took hold, and people flailed their arms, wept, and danced. Hazlitt, 3 Apr. 2024 Jagger, 80, captioned the video, featuring the rocker flailing his arms around at the cameraperson during a live cover of the 2011 track. Taijuan Moorman, USA TODAY, 1 Apr. 2024 The video shows her flailing so hard, her legs thrashing in the air, that the man tumbled to the ground. Ronen Bergman, New York Times, 26 Mar. 2024 Logistics may seem like an intimidating industry for some investors – a flailing megalith with its feet still firmly planted in a bygone era. Marianne Lehnis, Forbes, 29 Mar. 2024 Viewership for this year’s Globes was still down substantially from 2019, as awards shows across the board have faced ratings challenges, and the show’s host, comedian Jo Koy, took a major drubbing for his flailing performance. Josh Rottenberg, Los Angeles Times, 25 Mar. 2024 Peltz’s 25 desperate attempts to join Disney’s board should be seen as the last flicker of the flame of the flailing financier. Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, Fortune, 20 Mar. 2024 Just three minutes later, Núñez was denied by a flailing Onana on the stroke of halftime but the ball dropped at the feet of Salah, who rifled home to complete a rapid turnaround on the stroke of halftime. Sam Joseph, CNN, 17 Mar. 2024

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'flail.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use


before the 12th century, in the meaning defined above


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

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

Dictionary Entries Near flail

Cite this Entry

“Flail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flail. Accessed 16 Apr. 2024.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
: a tool for threshing grain by hand


2 of 2 verb
: to strike with or as if with a flail
: to move or wave about as if swinging a flail
flailed their arms

Medical Definition


: 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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