When you wave your arms around wildly, this is an example of flail.
An example of a flail is a tool used to toss grain up in the air.
Flailed our horses with the reins.
Flailed my arms to get their attention.
Arms flailing helplessly in the water.
Boxers flailing at each other in the ring.
Flailing about in vain attempts to establish a career.
He was flailing wildly, but didn't land a blow.
Origin of flail
- Middle English from Old English flegil and from Old French flaiel both from Late Latin flagellum threshing tool from Latin flagrum whip
From American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th 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”).