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[fleyl] /fleɪl/
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.
Origin of 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 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the Web for flailing
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • The lieutenant splashed, flailing out his arms, until he caught at the pole Drew extended to him.

    Ride Proud, Rebel! Andre Alice Norton
  • Desperately he tried to struggle loose, flailing with his legs—but useless.

    Raiders Invisible Desmond Winter Hall
  • He himself was flailing with his quirt, and the buckskin grunted at every strike.

    The Seventh Man Max Brand
  • His cane had ceased its flailing; the crowd had partially ceased its uproar.

  • He struggled, blind with fury, flailing his arms and kicking.

    Shaman Robert Shea
British Dictionary definitions for flailing


an implement used for threshing grain, consisting of a wooden handle with a free-swinging metal or wooden bar attached to it
a weapon so shaped used in the Middle Ages
(transitive) to beat or thrash with or as if with a flail
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 flailing



"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).


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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flailing 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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