\ 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

Thus, the outsize significance of the wedding ring, a clumsy flail toward concretizing what is essentially ethereal. Jennifer Bernstein, Vox, "Even as I question the institution of marriage and all its traditions, I find myself still wanting a ring.," 3 July 2019 Hence the Nasdaq swings higher than the other indices when the Big Four fly high and falls more rapidly when the Big Four flail. Allan Sloan, Washington Post, "Instead of ranting about market’s ‘mistake,’ let me issue a warning about ‘correction’," 7 June 2019 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

Recent Examples on the Web: Verb

Much of the time, the Trump Administration looks like a flailing force, a machine of deregulation, defunding, and destruction. Masha Gessen, The New Yorker, "Mike Pompeo’s Faith-Based Attempt to Narrowly Redefine Human Rights," 10 July 2019 One soldier was seen wrestling a young, flailing man into a waiting immigration van by the neck. Washington Post, "Mexico stages raid on train, detains dozens of migrants," 28 June 2019 His change-up roared to life as hitters unsuccessfully flailed at it. Bobby Nightengale, Cincinnati.com, "José Peraza's big night lifts the Cincinnati Reds to a win over St. Louis Cardinals," 5 June 2019 Amid the Warriors’ flailing interest and a hope to maximize his role, Jordan Bell accepted a one-year deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, a league source confirmed to Bay Area News Group. Mark Medina, The Mercury News, "Jordan Bell agrees to deal with Minnesota Timberwolves," 1 July 2019 Walker worked his ass off for years, without complaint, as his franchise flailed around him. Rob Mahoney, SI.com, "Kemba Walker Isn't Kyrie Irving, and Maybe That's a Good Thing for the Celtics," 30 June 2019 The motif of a woman flailing underwater is the ultimate 1880s damsel in distress. Brian T. Allen, National Review, "Silver Sailing Cups Recall Gilded Age Glamour and Sexuality," 29 June 2019 Backstage the 10 campaigns were crammed in individual cinder-block bunkers, outfitted with TVs so staffs could grit their teeth while watching their bosses flail. Dan Zak, Washington Post, "The Democratic debate is being held at ‘ground zero’ for the threat of rising seas. Can the climate candidate get a word in edgewise?," 27 June 2019 The college setting doesn’t really expand on the world of Monsters Inc., and watching these characters flail as their younger selves hardly adds to a story already defined best by its humor. Allegra Frank, Vox, "All 21 Pixar movies, definitively ranked," 27 June 2019

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

Last Updated

19 Jul 2019

Look-up Popularity

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).


to complain fretfully

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