\ ˈflāl \

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

Instead, the writers and director leave this film's dimwitted characters and bumbling science holes to flail about as utter laughing stocks. Sam Machkovech, Ars Technica, "The Meg film review: We’re going to need a stupider boat," 10 Aug. 2018 The trick is to work together to row your raft safely to avoid obstacles, which means strategically flailing with a Joy-Con in-hand. Megan Farokhmanesh, The Verge, "Super Mario Party would like you to be nicer to your friends," 5 Oct. 2018 Palantir is trying to win more corporate customers after years of flailing attempts to woo big business. Eliot Brown, WSJ, "Palantir Has a $20 Billion Valuation and a Bigger Problem: It Keeps Losing Money," 12 Nov. 2018 But instead of seeking medical care, workers bound her wrists, ankles, biceps and waist with restraints to keep her from flailing. Carol Marbin Miller And Monique O. Madan, miamiherald, "Behind lovely facade, allegations of slaps, bites, rapes, rats — and a horrific death | Miami Herald," 12 May 2018 Video showed arms flailing as officers in the water and on boats pulled her to safety. Fox News, "Police: Woman, man rescued from New York City's East River," 3 Aug. 2018 Roberta Ursrey flailed her legs and arms wildly, trying to hold her head above the choppy ocean water. Jonathan Small, Good Housekeeping, "My Family Almost Drowned. Then, 50 Strangers Stepped In and Saved Us.," 16 July 2018 As Fortune reported last year, the drug’s sales flailed under Valeant since many insurers denied coverage for the pill, and Addyi was facing criticism for its high price point and reportedly low efficacy rates. Polina Marinova, Fortune, "Term Sheet -- Monday, June 11," 11 June 2018 In 1906, the company’s building materials department was flailing, a result of an unwieldy number of items. Patrick Sisson, Curbed, "How Sears Kit Homes changed housing," 16 Oct. 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 \
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 \

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

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