\ 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

Keep scrolling for more

Synonyms for flail

Synonyms: Verb

Visit the Thesaurus for More 

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.
See More
Recent Examples on the Web: Noun 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 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 Recent Examples on the Web: Verb To stay safe during swooping season, cyclists are advised get off their bike during an attack, and to keep calm instead of flailing -- which may come across as aggressive behavior and provoke the birds further. Jessie Yeung, CNN, "Australian man dies after attack by a swooping magpie," 16 Sep. 2019 Against this supersized backdrop Viacom, a content provider with a market value of nearly $11bn, and CBS, a television network worth some $17bn, look like flailing minnows. The Economist, "Viacom and CBS agree to reunite," 15 Aug. 2019 The two men leave the store, but when the clerk leans out the door trying to get the truck’s tag number, the burly man jumps out of the passenger side door and comes at him with fists flailing. Doug Phillips, sun-sentinel.com, "Store trashed, clerk attacked after ‘already intoxicated’ customers were refused booze," 9 Aug. 2019 The woman’s daughter came running into the room and -- arms flailing -- forced Green out of the home. oregonlive, "Portland burglar creeps into 76-year-old woman’s house, sexually assaults her, gets 8 years," 10 Sep. 2019 Bard said that once on the ground, Ohene continued kicking and flailing. Meghan E. Irons, BostonGlobe.com, "Cambridge police commissioner backs officers in Harvard student’s arrest," 17 Apr. 2018 Davis flailed his arms and legs, hitting one deputy in the face multiple times with his knee and repeatedly striking the other deputy in the chest with his elbow, the statement reads. Mary Grace Keller, baltimoresun.com/maryland/carroll, "Westminster man charged with assault after allegedly fighting two sheriff’s deputies," 12 Sep. 2019 Through her window, there were trees dipping and flailing like drunk men in an alley. Ferguson Bernard, The New Yorker, "Hurricane Dorian Was a Climate Injustice," 12 Sep. 2019 Yet in his flailing performance before MPs this week, like an undergraduate bluffing his way through a viva, he was found out. The Economist, "Boris Johnson’s Unconservative Party," 7 Sep. 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.

See More

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about flail

Statistics for flail

Last Updated

27 Sep 2019

Time Traveler for flail

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

See more words from the same century

Keep scrolling for more

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

Keep scrolling for more

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

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).


not being in agreement or harmony

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Confusing Words—A Quiz

  • alice with tweedle dee and tweedle dum
  • I invented a brand new toaster robot and ______ it "Sir Toasts-a-Lot."
Spell It

Can you spell these 10 commonly misspelled words?

Add Diction

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!