Idiom 128 – „in one fell swoop“

We’ll continue in our ad-hoc miniseries of idioms with violent origins but not so violent meanings. Allow me set the stage: it’s the end of the month in a small warehouse (Lager) and two co-workers are discussing what must be done in the next few hours:

„Marion, how far along are you in processing those orders that came in from yesterday?“

„I’ve finished more than half. How about you?“

„Well, I still have three aisles (Gänge) to check for the monthly inventory report.“

„Michael, you’ll never finish on time! What about today’s orders?“

„Oh, yeah, well… I guess I should stop doing inventory and get on that!“

„No, don’t bother. I’ll take care of them, and you check those three aisles.

Just finish the monthly inventory in one fell swoop (auf einem Schlag)!“

„You’re right, it’ll go faster that way! Thanks, Marion!“


Sometimes, multi-tasking is necessary. Incoming phone-calls, outgoing e-mails, filling out forms – the more we can do at the same time, the better! However, other times it makes more sense to do one task, from start to finish, all in one go. The task goes by faster and we can concentrate on it better if we do it in one fell swoop.

Today’s idiom should make you think of a bird of prey (Greifvogel) as it swoops, or dives down to catch it’s prey. The first time  in one fell swoop was widely used dates back to 1606, when William Shakespeare used it in his tragedy, Macbeth. Towards the end of the play, the Scottish King orders the killing of his rival’s family. When his rival, MacDuff, finds out his whole family has been killed, he uses several bird metaphors including „in one fell swoop“ to describe how brutal the act was.


Today, the phrase is mostly free of its violent and wild meaning.

We just use it to mean „all at once.“