from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A manual threshing device consisting of a long wooden handle or staff and a shorter, free-swinging stick attached to its end.
  • transitive v. To beat or strike with or as if with a flail: flailed our horses with the reins.
  • transitive v. To wave or swing vigorously; thrash: flailed my arms to get their attention.
  • transitive v. To thresh using a flail.
  • intransitive v. To move vigorously or erratically; thrash about: arms flailing helplessly in the water.
  • intransitive v. To strike or lash out violently: boxers flailing at each other in the ring.
  • intransitive v. To thresh grain.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. 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.
  • n. A weapon which has the (usually spherical) striking part attached to the handle with a flexible joint such as a chain.
  • v. To beat using a flail or similar implement.
  • v. To wave or swing vigorously
  • v. To thresh.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • n. An instrument for threshing or beating grain from the ear by hand, consisting of a wooden staff or handle, at the end of which a stouter and shorter pole or club, called a swipe, is so hung as to swing freely.
  • n. An ancient military weapon, like the common flail, often having the striking part armed with rows of spikes, or loaded.

from The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia

  • To whip; scourge.
  • To strike with or as if with a flail; thresh.
  • n. An instrument for threshing or beating grain from the ear, consisting of the hand-staff, which is held in the hand, the swingle or swiple, which strikes the grain, and the middle band, which connects the hand-staff and swingle, and may be a thong of leather or a rope of hemp or straw.
  • n. Milit., a similar implement used as a weapon of war in the middle ages.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • v. move like a flail; thresh about
  • n. an implement consisting of handle with a free swinging stick at the end; used in manual threshing
  • v. give a thrashing to; beat hard


Middle English, from Old English flegil and from Old French flaiel, both from Late Latin flagellum, threshing tool, from Latin flagrum, whip.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
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 form 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 (plēgnýnai, "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"), Italian flagello ("scourge, whip, plague"). (Wiktionary)


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