Posted by Lewis on July 25, 2003
In Reply to: "At one fell swoop" posted by Peter on July 25, 2003
: Meanings and Origins gives for this phrase:
: From Shakespeare's Macbeth.
: MACDUFF: [on hearing that his family and servants have all been killed]
: He has no children. All my pretty ones?
: Did you say all? O hell-kite! All?
: What, all my pretty chickens and their dam
: At one fell swoop?
: The kite referred to is a hunting bird, like the Red Kite, which was common in England in Tudor times. The 'fell swoop' (or stoop as is now said) is the rapid descent made by the bird when capturing prey."
: I think it's not clear from this explanation that the word "fell" has nothing whatever to do with the kite "falling" upon its prey. My old Webster's 2nd Unabridged gives "swoop: to descend swiftly with closed wings, as a hawk [etc]"; but "fell", from Old French 'fel', means "cruel; barbarous; fierce [etc]" as in 'While we devise fell tortures for thy faults.'
I was about to appear all knowledgeable about birds of prey "stooping" and making the same observation about "fell" meaning evil/cruel - "fell purpose" would have been my choice example.
All I can add is that this kind of interest must be a "hobby" with you. The "hobby" being pretty much the smallest bird of prey used for hunting and a bird not restricted to the nobility.
it is interesting to note that each rank of the peerage confers the right to use a different bird of prey when hunting.
I don't have the ranks handy, but the general trend is for size to increase with rank.