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I know the meaning, but wanted to know the origin of the phrase.

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Wiktionary says it originated in Shakespeare's MacBeth:

Ro. Wife, Children, Seruants, all that could be found. […]
Macd. […] All my pretty ones?
Did you ſay All? Oh Hell-Kite! All?
What, All my pretty Chickens, and their Damme
At one fell swoope?

  • 3
    This is a good explanation, too. – JLG Jun 20 '12 at 1:59
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    Indeed. So is the explanation that it's a mispronunciation of "one swell foop", which I prefer because it's funnier. – John Lawler Jun 20 '12 at 2:34
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    As an anti-link rot measure: @JLG's link explains that "fell" in this context means "fierce" or "deadly" and the "fell swoop" is the way a bird of prey plunges from the sky to kill its prey. – donothingsuccessfully Jun 20 '12 at 6:46
  • i think of LOTR and maybe a Nazgul. fell indeed! – the0ther Feb 20 '15 at 16:56

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