Definition of flail in US English:



  • 1A threshing tool consisting of a wooden staff with a short heavy stick swinging from it.

    • ‘A local peasant farmer is threshing corn nearby and, hearing the commotion, comes to the rescue, using his flail as a weapon.’
    • ‘Vehicular clearing methods have entailed the use of flails, plows, and lightweight rollers.’
    • ‘In the west, it was mostly oaten straw that was used and it was important that the material had not been damaged and so, there was great care taken with the straw when it was threshed by the flail.’
    • ‘In some Middle Eastern locations, the same animals dragged a sledge over the ears, or workers manually threshed the plants with sticks or flails, to accomplish the same purpose.’
    • ‘On small farms this was done with a flail or wooden mallet and block.’
    • ‘I observed here and there many in the habit of servants, with a blown bladder fastened like a flail to the end of a short stick, which they carried in their hands.’
    • ‘While flails can cut strong stems, a circular saw is recommended for stems over two centimetres.’
    • ‘They sowed seed by hand, harvested using a curved sickle, threshed grain with a hand flail, and winnowed it by throwing it into the air and letting the wind carry away the chaff.’
    • ‘The laborers tell him that Ching was teaching a newly hired farmer the right way of holding the flail, but it was too much on the old man.’
    • ‘A farmyard suggested in her mind a scene of cheerful bustle, with churns and flails and smiling dairymaids, and teams of horses drinking knee-deep in duck-crowded ponds.’
    • ‘He arranged two lines of men with flails, clubs, pitchforks, sickles, and reaping hooks.’
    1. 1.1 A device similar to a flail, used as a weapon or for flogging.
      • ‘They were various weapons, including small swords, bows and arrows, hand axes, flails, nunchakus, and even a three sectional staff.’
      • ‘Then, if you manage to take his weapon, it usually means sacrificing your one flail as well.’
      • ‘On the anniversaries of the martyrs' deaths, young men gather and work themselves into a frenzy, rhythmically thumping their chests and lashing their backs with metal flails.’
      • ‘He landed hard on his side stabbing at the guard, the sword entered the man's side and he dropped his flail, falling to the ground in pain.’
      • ‘Pascall says one man tried to handcuff him while others attacked him with an axe, a spear and a flail.’
      • ‘Each rider carried one of many weapons - a wicked scimitar, a powerful lance, or a flail.’
      • ‘Without delaying for another second, he shook his saber free of the flail and swung across to the halberd, causing the man to retreat for a moment.’
      • ‘Will's favorite weapon is a flail, and as soon as an enemy is stunned, he can't help knocking him down again.’
      • ‘His weapon of choice is a deadly flail and he doesn't balk at finishing off wounded soldiers - or at sneaking up on them and strangling them.’
      • ‘Then, I spotted a super spiky little green thing that looked like a cross between a hand grenade and a medieval flail.’
      • ‘Taking a flail, the priestess scourged the body of the horse.’
      • ‘At the same time, the man in the middle swung his flail sideway to his left side.’
      • ‘Set stepped forward to meet him, his staff and flail replaced by a long, ornate spear.’
      • ‘This chamber's walls were decorated with racks and racks of swords, maces, flails and other dangerous weapons.’
      • ‘This man was far better with his weapon, a flail that was whipping dangerously close to Romon's face.’
      • ‘Turning around, he drew the first of the three weapons he possessed - a flail.’
      • ‘Observing the sea of swords, spears, clubs, flails and axes, with interest, he nodded.’
      • ‘Adams' opponent whipped its flail around; the weapon practically ripped the physicist's legs off at the knees.’
    2. 1.2 A machine having an action similar to a flail, used for threshing or slashing.
      as modifier ‘a flail hedge trimmer’
      • ‘The stones have had to survive vehicles mounting the verges and the modern peril of the flail cutters used to mow the grass roadsides.’
      • ‘The pruning machines were simply reciprocating cutters or flails mounted on a tractor.’
      • ‘Manure can be spread as a solid or semi-solid in a box or flail spreader.’
      • ‘It works well, though, and since we bought a rotary slasher to replace the original flail mower it does the job of topping the paddocks and light mulching very well.’
      • ‘Although flails - remote-controlled machines which beat the ground to set off explosives - can be used, they may miss those stuck under tree roots or hidden in river banks, so the land is still unusable.’


  • 1Wave or swing or cause to wave or swing wildly.

    no object ‘his arms were flailing helplessly’
    with object ‘he flailed his arms and drove her away’
    • ‘He began to flail his arms wildly and they hit me a couple times before I sat up and sat on his stomach and quickly pinned his arms down so that he wouldn't hurt himself or me anymore.’
    • ‘I danced my hardest and flailed my arms as wildly as I could, but it was all to no avail.’
    • ‘She lashed out at him now, her arms and legs flailing wildly, her kicks and punches missing their target by a considerable margin.’
    • ‘I grabbed Carmen, but she hit me in the mouth while flailing her arms wildly.’
    • ‘He met the eyes of his first target, flailing his arms wildly.’
    • ‘In his hurry he almost tripped on the stairs to the porch, but managed to keep his balance by wildly flailing out his arms.’
    • ‘He came at me, screaming and flailing his arms wildly about.’
    • ‘He yelled, his ribs burning with pain, and flailed his arms wildly.’
    • ‘He staggered, arms flailing wildly, and fell backward into the young pine tree.’
    • ‘Josh's arms flailed wildly, catching Katie in the face at times.’
    • ‘That was as good as showing a red flag to a bull, and the woman put her head down and thundered forward like a battering ram, flailing her hooked weapon around.’
    • ‘Susanne was kneeling up in her chair, flailing her arms wildly at me, her glowing face evidence that the celebrating had started long before my arrival.’
    • ‘He flailed his arms wildly like he had just been shot or something.’
    • ‘As we came closer we could make out two men in a life raft with dye marker showing and flailing their arms wildly in the air pleading to be seen.’
    • ‘He released another arrow into the centermost human, one that was flailing his arms wildly as he shouted.’
    • ‘Then his arms would start flailing wildly like a birds in erratic flight.’
    • ‘Thrashing wildly, she flailed her arms and legs in a desperate attempt to move upwards, to the surface, to salvation.’
    • ‘Matthias, caught up in the moment, flailed his arms wildly and babbled incoherently.’
    • ‘She looked up at the wolf peering down at her, and flailed her arms wildly, the tears streaming down her face and the wails screaming from her open mouth.’
    • ‘Most people in the room flailed their arms wildly around in the air and one selected girl was taken away.’
    wave, swing, thrash about, flap about, beat about, windmill, move erratically
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    1. 1.1no object Flounder; struggle uselessly.
      ‘I was flailing about in the water’
      ‘he flailed around on the snow’
      • ‘The thieves sighed but waved goodbye nonetheless as I was taken, kicking and screaming and flailing about, back to the palace.’
      • ‘Many a time while rushing around at work, I've stumbled after stepping on the material and ended up flailing about on the steps.’
      • ‘He burst to the surface, flailing about and coughing.’
      • ‘He dove under and for about two seconds there was only darkness but his eyes adjusted to the dark water and then he saw Will flailing about a few feet below him.’
      • ‘The Russians called out in dismay and collapsed each in turn, flailing about as if held by a hurricane.’
      • ‘Both ends of the worm twisted and flailed around on the ground, with one end still screeching its head off.’
      • ‘The sound persisted, like something small urgently flailing about inside a confined space.’
      • ‘It isn't expensive - since my adventures often end with me crashing, falling or flailing about in water - but it's cute.’
      • ‘I instantly panicked, clumsily splashing and flailing about as I instinctively fought to keep myself afloat.’
      • ‘I flailed around trying desperately to grab hold of something.’
      • ‘The priest awoke with a start, flailing about in the bed until he recollected where he was and heaved himself across the mattress, in search of breakfast, no doubt.’
      • ‘So now, the man who'd been arguing with them was covered with the birds, and was flailing about madly, sending feathers flying everywhere.’
      • ‘His sinewy arms flailed around uselessly, his legs kicked furiously, but the ocean's grip on him only got stronger as it pulled him further down.’
      flounder, struggle, thrash, thresh, squirm, wriggle, writhe, twist, splash, stumble, blunder, fumble, wiggle, twitch
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  • 2with object Beat; flog.

    ‘he escorted them, flailing their shoulders with his cane’
    • ‘She flailed her fists at him and he struck her back hard.’
    • ‘Rain lashed from the angry sky, icy scourges flailing Alex's head and shoulders as soon as she stepped out of the Gate she had used to escape the tunnels.’
    • ‘As they hurried to do as he ordered, he flailed his strap against each of their backs in turn.’
    thrash, beat, strike, batter, drub, flog, whip, lash, scourge, flay, flagellate, strap, switch, tan, cane, tan someone's hide, whip someone's hide, give someone a hiding, beat the living daylights out of, clout, welt, belabour
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Old English, of West Germanic origin, based on Latin flagellum ‘whip’ (see flagellum); probably influenced in Middle English by Old French flaiel or Dutch vlegel.