The other day I tried to use a cliche phrase “one foul swoop.”
Once I wrote it, I wondered about the original meaning. Was there a foul, like a mistake swooping in?
Or maybe the phrase refers to a fowl bird that swoops down all at once.
It turns out that neither is correct. Instead the phrase should be “one fell swoop.”
One fell swoop means all at once. It appears in Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth.
While we don’t often use the word “fell” in this way anymore, it meant “fierce,” “villain,” “terrible,” etc. It is the source of the word “felon” or “felony.”
Therefore, “one fell swoop” means more than just all at once. It has the connotation of fierceness.