an instrument for threshing grain, consisting of a staff or handle to one end of which is attached a freely swinging stick or bar.
a similar instrument used as a weapon of war.
verb (used with object), verb (used without object)
to beat or swing with or as if with a flail.

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

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World English Dictionary
flail (fleɪl)
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
3.  (tr) 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
[C12 fleil, ultimately from Late Latin flagellum flail, from Latin: whip]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
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Word Origin & History

"implement for threshing grain," c.1100, from an unrecorded O.E. *flegel, which probably represents W.Gmc. *flagil (cf. M.Du., Low Ger. vlegel, O.H.G. flegel, Ger. flegel), a borrowing of L.L. flagellum "winnowing tool, flail," from L. flagellum "whip." The verb is 15c., from the noun; 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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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

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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Example sentences
But many are concerned not so much about a failed president as about a flailing
Most people timidly jump off the bungee cord, flailing a bit.
To me this sounds much more logical than being tickled by a phantom flailing
Six biologists enter the pen shouting and flailing their arms, shooing the
  condors into holding cells.
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