one fell swoop: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘one fell swoop’ mean?

The idiom "one fell swoop" means to do something quickly and all at once, usually to accomplish a task or achieve a goal. It suggests that the action is done with great force or impact, without any delay or hesitation.

Idiom Explorer

Origin Unveiled

The idiom "one fell swoop" is a common expression in the English language. It conveys a sense of suddenness or speed with which something is done or accomplished. The phrase has an interesting origin and has been used in literature throughout history.

The origins of the idiom can be traced back to William Shakespeare's play Macbeth. In Act 4, Scene 3, Macduff speaks the line: "All my pretty ones? Did you say all? O hell-kite! All? What, all my pretty chickens and their dam at one fell swoop?" Here, the phrase describes the merciless act of killing Macduff's loved ones in a swift attack.

The word "fell" in the idiom is often misunderstood. It actually means "fierce" or "deadly." In Old English, it referred to something destructive or fatal. In the phrase "one fell swoop," "fell" emphasizes the suddenness and impact of the action.

Over time, the idiom has gained popularity and is now used in everyday language. It describes actions or events that occur quickly or unexpectedly. For example, one might say, "She cleaned the entire house in one fell swoop" to convey completing a task efficiently.

The idiom has also been referenced in literature by authors like Charles Dickens and J.R.R. Tolkien, contributing to its place in the English language.

Despite its widespread usage, "one fell swoop" can still be interpreted differently. While its historical origin and meaning are well-documented, there may be additional layers of nuance or cultural significance that have yet to be fully explored. The idiom continues to be employed, offering opportunities for further examination.

in one go, "one fell swoop" captures the idea of completing a task or achieving a goal all at once. It emphasizes efficiency and speed, highlighting the ability to accomplish something in a single effort without any interruptions.

All at once, "one fell swoop" emphasizes the suddenness and immediate impact of an action or event. It conveys the idea of everything happening simultaneously, without any delay or hesitation.

in one foul swoop, "one fell swoop" is used to describe the occurrence of a negative or undesirable event, typically with dire consequences. It suggests that something unfortunate or destructive happens all at once, leaving no chance for escape or recovery.

just like that, "one fell swoop" signifies something occurring very quickly and suddenly, without any warning or preparation. It implies a swift and unexpected action or event, catching everyone by surprise.

in a flash, "one fell swoop" conveys the idea of something happening with incredible speed or rapidity. It emphasizes the quickness and immediacy of the action or event, leaving no time for anyone to react or respond.

Example usage


  • I finished all my assignments in one fell swoop.
  • The company decided to lay off 50 employees in one fell swoop.
  • She donated all her old clothes to charity in one fell swoop.

In these examples, the idiom "one fell swoop" is used to convey the idea of completing or accomplishing something all at once, in a single action. It emphasizes the speed, efficiency, and completeness of the action. The phrase is often used to describe situations where multiple tasks or actions are done simultaneously or in a very quick succession, resulting in a significant or noticeable impact.

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