1. rain that freezes in the sky and falls to the ground as small balls of ice
2. a large number of things such as bullets or questions that come towards you quickly or with force
Origin and usage
Like several other weather-related words, hail is of Germanic origin. In Old English its form was ‘hagol’ or ‘hægl’ and it had many other spellings over the centuries before settling on its current form in the 17th century. The figurative use also dates from the beginning of the 17th century, when it was used by Shakespeare among others.
Hail is both a noun and a verb, but the verb’s most frequent meanings come from a different root, the old noun ‘hail’ meaning ‘health’. Hailstones are small balls of ice that form within cumulonimbus clouds during thunderstorms. Hail storms are more frequent within the continental interiors of mid-latitudes rather than in very hot or very cold regions of the world. Hailstones can range in size from 5mm to 15cm; anything larger is considered not to be a hailstone. In its extended meaning, the most frequent physical objects that are said to come in a hail are bullets, followed by other harmful objects such as arrows, gunfire, missiles, rockets and stones. Figuratively you are most likely to find a hail of criticism, questions or abuse.
“Insults are pouring down on me as thick as hail.”
“I once told Nixon that the Presidency is like being a jackass caught in a hail storm. You’ve got to just stand there and take it.”
(Lyndon B Johnson)
hailstone, sleet, snowflake