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Peasants using flails (tool) to thresh cereal.
a flail (weapon)


From Middle English flaile, flayle, from earlier Middle English fleil, fleyl, fleȝȝl, flegl, from Old English fligel, *flegel(flail), from Proto-Germanic *flagilaz(flail, whip), of uncertain origin. Cognate with Scots flail(a thresher's flail), West Frisian fleil, flaaiel(flail), Dutch vlegel(flail), Low German vlegel(flail), German Flegel(flail). Possibly a native Germanic word from Proto-Germanic *flag-, *flah-(to whip, beat), from Proto-Indo-European *plak-, *plāk- ("to beat, hit, strike; weep"; compare Lithuanian plàkti(to whip, lash, flog), Ancient Greek πληγνύναι(plēgnúnai, strike, hit, encounter), Latin plangō(lament", i.e. "beat one's breast)) + Proto-Germanic *-ilaz(instrumental suffix); or a borrowing of Latin flagellum, diminutive of flagrum(scourge, whip), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰlag-, *bʰlaǵ- ("to beat"; compare Old Norse blekkja(to beat, mistreat)). Compare also Old French flael(flail), Walloon flayea(flail) (locally pronounced "flai"), Italian flagello(scourge, whip, plague).



flail (plural flails)

  1. A tool used for threshing, consisting of a long handle with a shorter stick attached with a short piece of chain, thong or similar material.
  2. A weapon which has the (usually spherical) striking part attached to the handle with a flexible joint such as a chain.


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Coordinate terms[edit]


flail (third-person singular simple present flails, present participle flailing, simple past and past participle flailed)

  1. (transitive) To beat using a flail or similar implement.
  2. (transitive) To wave or swing vigorously
    • 2011 October 20, Michael da Silva, “Stoke 3 - 0 Macc Tel-Aviv”, in BBC Sport[1]:
      Tangling with Ziv, Cameron caught him with a flailing elbow, causing the Israeli defender to go down a little easily. However, the referee was in no doubt, much to the displeasure of the home fans.
    • 1937, H. P. Lovecraft, The Evil Clergyman
      He stopped in his tracks – then, flailing his arms wildly in the air, began to stagger backwards.
  3. (transitive) To thresh.
  4. (intransitive) To move like a flail.
    He was flailing wildly, but didn't land a blow.



See also[edit]