Why Kill Two Birds With One Stone?

You can express yourself much more elegantly, and much less violently, with some alternatives to a common idiom of murky origins.

TX_Rio Grande Valley Birding by Jann Alexander ©2015

How Could You Kill Two Birds?  Photograph by Jann Alexander ©2015


‘Killing two birds with one stone’ is such a time-honored idiom for explaining a win-win that it often comes unbidden to my mind, and I may even utter it without thinking about the words’ actual meaning.

Of course I would never want to kill one bird, let alone two, because I love birds. I love to listen to them, to see them flit through the trees, to spy upon them up close through a scope. I appreciate the way they refuse to sit still for a photograph and thereby keeping me in the moment in order to experience them. I find their migration patterns, flying habits, instincts and colorful markings to be fascinating. I find their hierarchy and genus classifications to be past my memorization abilities, but I love hearing about them from birding experts nonetheless.

I realize birds have lessons to teach us.

It was at the behest of a friend who’s a birding expert that I began my search for alternatives to killing two birds with one stone. “Why,” he asked one day, “would you want to kill birds?” To which I had no reply, except that I wouldn’t. (Would you?) It’s just a saying that I’ve been saying ever since I’ve been saying sayings.

“Like killing two birds with one stone”

No one really knows


In Scandinavia, there’s a better way of saying it. “Killing two flies with one swat.

While that’s as unlikely as killing two birds with one stone, I think we can all agree we’d rather kill flies than birds.

The problem is, there aren’t too many things I’d kill. Flies, yes. Here’s another one: “Like killing two cockroaches with one Roach Motel.”

In Texas, we encounter creatures with regularity that will do us harm. So here’s a third alternative: “Like killing two scorpions with one pointy-toed boot.

And a fourth:Like killing two thousand fire ants with one fire truck.” (When it comes to Texas fire ants, you have to up the ante from two to two thousand.)

I think we can all agree on cockroaches, scorpions and fire ants, too. (Can’t we?) As for spiders without red dots, garden snakes, even tarantulas, and other pesky creatures we cohabit with here, I’d much rather relocate them. It’s not their fault I got in their way.

“Like killing two cockroaches with one Roach Motel.” Tweet:

—Jann Alexander


Summing up, here are the metaphors you can use instead of Two Birds, whether you’re in Scandinavia or Texas or beyond:

  • Like killing two flies with one swat.
  • Like killing two cockroaches with one Roach Motel.”
  • Like killing two scorpions with one pointy-toed boot.
  • Like killing two thousand fire ants with one fire truck.”

That pretty much ends my list of alternatives for the offensive Two Birds figure of speech, at least when it comes to sentient beings. But that got me thinking—being a writer, it’s mandatory to practice creating metaphors to replace literal descriptions—there are ideas and beliefs worthy of killing as well, aren’t there? Why stop at analogies that only work for living things?

I’ll start the ball rolling with a few new idioms that celebrate another time-honored saying, Live and Let Live:

  • Like killing two ideas that strangle freedom with one drone.
  • “Like killing two ‘Religious Freedom’ laws with one iota of tolerance.”
  • “Like killing two prayer rallies against gay marriage with one thunderstorm.”
  • “Like killing two abortion clinics with one Bible.”

These are tricky idioms to get right. I guess there was a reason some Paleo rock-throwing philosopher (or perhaps a Chinese proverb writer or a Greek mythologist or a Roman poet or just two 17th century Brits—see its origin story, here) came up with the Two Birds analogy. But ideas and beliefs change over time, as can antiquated analogies. So I welcome your input on improvements to my suggested metaphors. 

Will you contribute some to keep the list going?

For more on the art of writing, look HERE. For more inspiration, look HERE.


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6 replies

  1. I can’t believe you carry critters outslde instead of dispatching them to another plane of existence too. Even flies for me, but when it comes to them or me as is the case with mosquitoes, I choose ME every time!

    Like

  2. Why not switch it up completely and use something other than the killing thing. Maybe…like swallowing two candy kisses in one swallow, or slicing two meatballs with one slice. Maybe I’m just hungry right now 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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