One Fell Swoop

What Is The Meaning Of “One Fell Swoop”?

The common phrase in one fell swoop means to do something in one action. In additional, it can mean that something was done quickly; a swift action.

Example: My yard is a mess. The grass is overgrown and weeds are popping up everywhere! So I brought out my nifty lawnmower and in one fell swoop I restored my lawn back to a presentable condition.

Synonyms / Similar Phrases:

In one fell swoop an eagle tries catching a fish.

What Is The Origin Of “In One Fell Swoop”?

When you think of the word “swoop,” what comes to mind? You might picture a bird swooping down from the sky, which means it is descending rapidly. Indeed, the expression “in one fell swoop” may come from birds of prey such as eagles and hawks and the way they hunt other animals.

Eagles and other birds of prey eat meat, so they are carnivores. While soaring through the air, they can spot potential targets from far away with their excellent eyesight. Once they spot something, they swoop towards it. Now piercing through the air at high speeds, their long talons are readied as they prepare to grab the unsuspecting prey! Since birds like this swoop down and accomplish this in a single, sudden movement (or in other words, in one fell swoop), it could be that the meaning of this phrase and the expression itself originates from these types of birds and the manner in which they hunt.

Anyway, how old is this idiom? The earliest I could find the expression is in the play Macbeth by William Shakespeare, 1607:

“What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam, at one fell swoop?”

So this phrase is at least over 410 years old.


Example Sentences

  • We were running late and I wasn’t to leave yet, so in one fell swoop I got dressed and did my hair; we were out the door soon after.

Similar Examples:

  • I need to buy some light bulbs and a stack of printer paper for work, so I’ll kill two birds with one stone if I stop by the store later.

Tip: Interested to read about more expressions? Swoop on over to our phrases starting with ‘O’ page to see more like this.


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