\ 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

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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.
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Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Fans no longer could complain about watching an overmatched pitcher flail at the plate. Los Angeles Times, "Why a coronavirus-shortened MLB season could lead to a National League DH rule," 14 June 2020 Who could resist watching Dash flail about in a tornado, and then promptly stop and let out a very earnest cat meow? USA TODAY, "32 incredible coding toys that every kid will want," 27 Mar. 2020 Super-deep repertoire of falls and flails, plus a classic crybaby Flop Face. Scott Ostler, SFChronicle.com, "From Goliath to James Harden: The best floppers of all time," 18 Dec. 2019 No errors, no flails on hanging curveballs, no baserunning mistakes. Paul Daugherty, Cincinnati.com, "Doc's Morning Line: The World Series is leading us to an ominous place. Don't do it, MLB.," 29 Oct. 2019 Over in East Rutherford, the Giants are now considering a hard right turn to rookie quarterback Daniel Jones after watching Eli Manning flail in the pocket ineffectively in two straight losses. Conor Orr, SI.com, "Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning Showing Their Mortality as Quarterbacks," 16 Sep. 2019 The borderlands have no courts and tribal police flail in the face of paperwork and investigations. The Economist, "Pakistan’s borderlands at last win a say in their own administration," 20 July 2019 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Investors somewhat miraculously haven’t started to flail yet, according to Vulture, and the platform continues to push out new content. Sonia Rao, Washington Post, "The brief life cycle of Quibi, from promising start to industry laughingstock," 7 July 2020 The audience watches them flail, knowing things are only going to get worse. Bill Goodykoontz, azcentral, "We're living in a horror film fueled by ignorance. Here's why there's no easy end in sight," 1 June 2020 Pacers coach Larry Brown is racing down the sideline, clapping hysterically, flailing his arms. Dana Hunsinger Benbow, Indianapolis Star, "Inside Madison Square Garden when Reggie Miller's 8 points in 8.9 seconds echoed round the world," 2 May 2020 When officers went to arrest him, Mr. Williams began flailing his arms, according to the complaint. Ali Watkins, New York Times, "Man Who Shot Up a Bronx Precinct Was ‘Tired of Police Officers’," 10 Feb. 2020 As Green’s fingertips ensured Lowry’s shot fell short at the buzzer, robbing the Raptors of what might’ve been the most iconic shot in basketball history, Curry ran almost the length of the court, flailing his arms in celebration. Matt Schneidman, The Mercury News, "Splash Brothers save the Warriors doing what they do best," 10 June 2019 During the delay, one caddie was seen laying on a fairway and flailing his arms and legs as if making a snow angel. Brian Costa, WSJ, "Is This the Year Phil Mickelson Wins the U.S. Open?," 11 Feb. 2019 In the absence of landmarks and boundaries, our head-direction cells and grid cells, which normally do an excellent job at keeping us on track, can’t compute direction and distance, and leave us flailing in space. Michael Bond, Wired, "Why Humans Totally Freak Out When They Get Lost," 13 May 2020 In NYT Parenting’s newsletter, lead editor Jessica Grose wrote about the accidental injuries small children can inflict on their parents, and how to cope if you’re injured by a head-butting toddler or a flailing baby with razor-sharp fingernails. Dani Blum, New York Times, "Coping with Child-Inflicted Injuries," 17 Apr. 2020

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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Time Traveler for flail

Time Traveler

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

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Statistics for flail

Last Updated

20 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Flail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flail. Accessed 15 Jul. 2020.

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More Definitions for flail


How to pronounce flail (audio)

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

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for flail

Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with flail

Spanish Central: Translation of flail

Nglish: Translation of flail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about flail

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