\ 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 In the video, cats stay in the upside-down position and flail, and even pigeons can’t decide which way is up or down. Caroline Delbert, Popular Mechanics, "That Time the Air Force Tossed Cats in Zero Gravity," 24 Aug. 2020 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb Malone has also designed a pair of Jibbitz three-packs, which include images inspired by his hammer and flail face tats, as well as one featuring a rubber duck, a colorful heart and, of course, his favorite snack, grapes. Gil Kaufman, Billboard, "Post Malone Goes With Blackpink Color Scheme for Fifth Crocs Collaboration," 8 Dec. 2020 Apparently, a landed carp is comfortable and less prone to flail when bagged and tied to the dock. Kirk Deeter, Field & Stream, "F&S Classics: Carp Crazy," 5 Dec. 2020 Why are we are left to flail in the wind when others are included? Doris Bittar, San Diego Union-Tribune, "Commentary: Arab Americans must be included in California’s new ethnic studies curriculum," 18 Nov. 2020 This caused many of his throws to flail or lack the necessary velocity to be a completable pass. John Owning, Dallas News, "Film room: 3 things we learned from Cowboys-Eagles, including more ups than downs for CB Trevon Diggs," 2 Nov. 2020 Probably a lot of offseason introspection — and a good, hard look at players on the roster who tend to feast on bad pitching and flail at good pitching. Michael Rand, Star Tribune, "To break their playoff streak, Twins must reinvent their offense," 6 Oct. 2020 As authorities flail in spotlight, a 'call to arms' emerges As Blake fought for his life in the Milwaukee hospital, the video of his shooting spread across social media like wildfire. Casey Tolan, CNN, "A Black man shot in the back, a teenage shooting suspect, a city in flames: The week that shook Kenosha and the country," 4 Sep. 2020 But author Irina Aleksander also argues that Entireworld is thriving while bigger labels flail because Sternberg has shunned the entire global fashion machine. Naomi Xu Elegant, Fortune, "Sweatpants craze and DIY patios: What the pandemic has taught design-led businesses—so far," 18 Aug. 2020 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

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

Cite this Entry

“Flail.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/flail. Accessed 15 Jan. 2021.

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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

Nglish: Translation of flail for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about flail

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