October 14, 2013
- flail (verb)
- What does it mean?
- : to move or swing your arms or legs in a wild and uncontrolled way
- How do you use it?
- He carefully scooted across the ice, but slipped, flailing as he fell.
- Are you a word wiz?
Where do you think we got the verb "flail" from?If you chose C, you're right! A flail is a hand tool used in threshing grain (that is, in separating the grains from the plant) made of a long wooden handle with a free-swinging short rod at the end of it. Threshers would beat the grain stalks with the short rod, and the rod and thresher's erratic swinging gave rise to a verb that meant "to beat with or as if with a flail." That meaning broadened over time, and now we use it to refer to any wild, uncontrolled motion that reminds us of the flail. The noun "flail" came into English very early--before the 12th century--and the verb came into use in the 15th century.