At/In One Fell Swoop

Meaning of “At/In One Fell Swoop”

The phrase “at/in one fell swoop” means to do something in a single try. It also means a task done all in one go, single action, or something that happened suddenly. The phrase is often used with ‘at’.

Origin of “At/In One Fell Swoop”

The phrase “at/in one fell swoop” was used in the play, Macbeth written by William Shakespeare by 1605. Its character, McDuff, says:

“All my pretty ones?
Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
At one fell swoop?”

Since then, the phrase has become popular in the English language in the same words.

Examples in Literature

Examples #1

One Fell Swoop by Rose Ann V. Shawiak

Rasping against my mind like a guitar out of tune,
hurting intellect with its noisy distribution of
inert sounds.
Swallowing hard, the temptation to end it all in
one fell swoop, not caring what happens as long
as I disappear into the next horizon.

This short poem describes the mental state of the poet. The poet wants to end this state of mind in “one fell swoop” to disappear in the people. He compares his mental state with an out of tune guitar because it hurt him. Therefore, he desires that if he can he will end it in “one fell swoop” without taking care of what happens next.

Examples #2

The Bath by Harry Graham

It fell to earth I know not where!
He beat his breast in his despair,
And then, like Venus from the foam,
Sprang into view, and made for home!
His aunt fell fainting to the ground!
Alas! They never brought her round!
She died, intestate, in her prime,
The victim of another’s crime;
And John can never quite forget
How, by a breach of etiquette,
He lost, at one fell swoop (or plunge)
His aunt, his honour and his sponge!

This tragically humorous part of the poem is about an interesting, yet tragic events of John’s life. He is weeping over the death of his aunt and loses his sponge as well as honor. This act of putting trivial acts beside the most serious incident makes it comically tragic. And this all happened at once. The poet adds that he has lost all these three things in one go.

Examples #3

Lust a Prima Vista written by Daniel Ludeman and colleagues and sung by The Spill Canvas

In one fell swoop it became clear to me,
That I despise you entirely,
But the good news is I’m gonna keep you around
And so your lust is just convenient now
Crack open a bottle of red
Let’s toast to this here bed
Offer up your hand
My one night, two month, three year stand
And all at once it became clear to me,
That you’re allergic to honesty

The above song shows the use of this phrase in the first line when the speaker becomes clear that he hates his beloved. He, however, also points out that there is good news. Despite the lust, he is going to stay in love with her. He ends these lines, saying, his beloved is “allergic to honesty” and it has suddenly dawned upon him. The phrase used in the first line shows the meanings of “suddenness.”

Examples #4

One Fell Swoop: A Novel in Stories by Virginia Boyd,

The novel presents a murder mystery explored from various perspectives to see the reality behind the crime. Regina Clayton shoots Michael, her husband, which sets a chain reaction in which even neighbors are involved. The involvement of other characters opens up a pandora’s box.  The readers will be perplexed to see many characters involved in just a “one fell swoop” that it becomes difficult to keep track of all of them. As the novel starts from just one incident, it shows how suddenly it turns up into a complex crime story.

Examples in Sentences

Examples #1: “In one fell swoop, the eagle plunges to the rabbit and takes it away from the bushes.”

Examples #2: “They would alienate not only the parents but also the student at one fell swoop of action.”

Examples #3: “The giant social media companies will one day take our privacy at one fell swoop.”

Examples #4: “Don’t do everything at one fell swoop, you might miss important points before the meeting.”

Examples #5: “In one fell swoop he has come home without waiting for his family.”