Where Did the Expression “One Fell Swoop” Originate and What Does it Mean?

The expression “one fell swoop” was introduced by Shakespeare in Macbeth.

When Macduff learns that his wife and children have been murdered he exclaims:

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

Metaphorically, Macduff compares his wife and children to chickens and their murderer to a bird of prey.

During Shakespeare’s time, fell meant “fierce,” and survives today in the word felon.