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


From Middle English flayle, from earlier fleil, fleyl, fleȝȝl, from Old English fligel, *flegel (flail), from Proto-West Germanic *flagil, of uncertain origin. Cognate with Scots flail (a thresher's flail), West Frisian fleil, flaaiel (flail), Dutch vlegel (flail), German Flegel (flail). Possibly a native Germanic word from Proto-Germanic *flagilaz (whip), from Proto-Germanic *flag-, *flah- (to whip, beat), from Proto-Indo-European *pleh₂k- (to beat, hit, strike; weep); compare Old Norse flaga (sudden attack, bout), 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). If so, related also to English flag, flack, flacker.

Alternatively, Proto-West Germanic *flagil may be an early borrowing of Latin flagellum (winnowing tool, thresher), 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).


  • IPA(key): /fleɪl/
  • (dialectal, archaic) IPA(key): /fɹeɪl/ (see frail)[1]
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪl


flail (plural flails)

  1. A tool used for threshing, consisting of a long handle (handstock) with a shorter stick (swipple or swingle) attached with a short piece of chain, thong or similar material.
    Synonyms: frail (obsolete), thrashel, threshel
  2. A weapon which has the (usually spherical) striking part attached to the handle with a flexible joint such as a chain.
    Coordinate term: nunchaku

Derived terms[edit]


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.


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
    Synonym: thrash
    • 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.
    • 1966, James Workman, The Mad Emperor, Melbourne, Sydney: Scripts, page 46:
      Undismayed he continued to flail with the broken half of it, denting many a helmet[.]

Derived terms[edit]



  1. ^ Hall, Joseph Sargent (March 2, 1942), “3. The Consonants”, in The Phonetics of Great Smoky Mountain Speech (American Speech: Reprints and Monographs; 4), New York: King's Crown Press, →DOI, →ISBN, § 5, page 97.

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