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


From Middle English flaile, flayle, from earlier fleil, fleyl, fleȝȝl, from Old English fligel, *flegel (flail), from Proto-West Germanic *flagil, 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 *pleh₂k- (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).


  • IPA(key): /fleɪl/
  • (file)
  • (file)
  • Rhymes: -eɪl


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.




The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Wiktionary:Entry layout § Translations.

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
    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.
    • 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[.]
    He was flailing wildly, but didn't land a blow.


See also[edit]