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flail

[fleyl] /fleɪl/
noun
1.
an instrument for threshing grain, consisting of a staff or handle to one end of which is attached a freely swinging stick or bar.
2.
a similar instrument used as a weapon of war.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
3.
to beat or swing with or as if with a flail.
Origin
1100
before 1100; Middle English fleil (noun), Old English flighel (probably misspelling of *flegil), cognate with Dutch vlegel, German Flegel < West Germanic *flagil- < Late Latin flagellum flail, Latin: whip, scourge. See flagellum
Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Examples from the web for flail
  • Another third would flail and swallow some water, but somehow they'd make it to the water's edge.
  • On the road to the main cemetery, rain-soaked policemen flail their batons at delivery trucks co-opted as hearses.
  • They didn't see her trip on a branch and flail endlessly to get on her feet.
  • Crocodiles position themselves nearby, picking off the animals as they flail in the water.
  • When angry, he is known to shout, turn red and flail his arms.
  • They did everything right by their children, only to watch them flail.
  • Onstage and off, people flail the air in hippie dances.
  • Side effects of her medicines made her arms and legs flail out of control, and she could not teach.
  • Sometimes it didn't matter: he'd flail at me anyway.
  • Notion of time in physics is as simple as a construction of a flail.
British Dictionary definitions for flail

flail

/fleɪl/
noun
1.
an implement used for threshing grain, consisting of a wooden handle with a free-swinging metal or wooden bar attached to it
2.
a weapon so shaped used in the Middle Ages
verb
3.
(transitive) to beat or thrash with or as if with a flail
4.
to move or be moved like a flail; thresh about: with arms flailing
Word Origin
C12 fleil, ultimately from Late Latin flagellum flail, from Latin: whip
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for flail
n.

"implement for threshing grain," c.1100, perhaps from an unrecorded Old English *flegel, which probably represents West Germanic *flagil (cf. Middle Dutch and Low German vlegel, Old High German flegel, German flegel), a borrowing of Late Latin flagellum "winnowing tool, flail," from Latin flagellum "whip" (see flagellum).

v.

15c., from flail (n.); originally "to scourge;" sense of "to move like a flail" is from 1874. Related: Flailed; flailing.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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flail in Medicine

flail (flāl)
v. flailed, flail·ing, flails

  1. To move vigorously or erratically; thrash about.

  2. To strike or lash out violently.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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Encyclopedia Article for flail

ancient hand tool for threshing grain. It consists of two pieces of wood: the handstaff, or helve, and the beater, joined by a thong. The handstaff is a light rod several feet long, the beater a shorter piece. With a flail, one man could thresh 7 bushels of wheat, 8 of rye, 15 of barley, 18 of oats, or 20 of buckwheat in a day (one bushel equals about 35 litres). The flail remained the principal method of threshing until the mid-19th century, when mechanical threshers became widespread (see thresher).

Learn more about flail with a free trial on Britannica.com
Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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