“Kill Two Birds With One Stone” – Phrase Origin

There are infinite ways to describe efficiency, and the idiom, “kill two birds with one stone,” is one of them. But surely this doesn’t mean actually killing birds, does it? And where did this phrase come from?

The origin of the phrase “kill two birds with one stone” dates back to the story of Daedalus and Icarus. Wanting to escape the labyrinth, Daedalus made two pairs of wings by killing two birds with one stone and gluing their feathers together.

In this article, we dive deep into how this idiom came to be and what controversies concerning its meaning and interpretation surround it.

Where the Phrase “Kill Two Birds With One Stone” Came From

In Greek Mythology, the father and son team of Daedalus and Icarus escaped a labyrinth in Crete using wings made of bird feathers and assembled using wax.

On their way out, Icarus’ father warned him not to fly too close to the sun. Full of hubris, Icarus ignored this warning and did it anyway. Flying too close to the son melted the wax that glued his wings together, causing him to fall into the vast ocean and die. The tragic ending to this story almost makes it unforgettable for anyone who’s read it.

What you may have missed, though, is how Daedalus got the feathers he used to make their wings. It’s said that he got them by killing two birds with one stone, hence, the birth of the idiom.

At present, this expression mainly describes scenarios where two outputs (birds) are completed with just one input (stone). These examples don’t involve killing birds or any animal, though. 

What Does Killing Two Birds With One Stone Really Mean?

“Killing two birds with one stone” is just an idiom, and no killing or bird participation must occur. When you hit two birds with one stone, you accomplish two items with a single move, which is why the idiom is typically associated with efficiency. 

While this can happen accidentally, careful planning makes it more likely to tick items off your list two at a time.

With this said, being able to kill two birds with one stone is a skill some people have rather than something that just anyone can do. If you’re a good planner and multitasker, chances are you kill two birds with one stone daily, which allows you to free up more time and save money and other resources.

Here are some examples of this:

  • Opting to study at the library because some of the books you borrowed are already due. 
  • Grabbing dessert from a cafe and catching up with an old friend. 
  • Getting your degree in a foreign country, as you’ll gain expertise in your field of interest and learn a new language simultaneously.

Accomplishing the two results doesn’t have to happen simultaneously, though. 

It could be that you have one main target and there’s a way to accomplish it while also executing one more thing on the side. For instance, for procrastinators, preparing for exams is hitting two birds with one stone because they usually get the room squeaky clean before they start studying. Ergo, hitting two birds with one stone.

This might not always be the best way to prepare for an exam, but you get the point.

Another similar example would be getting to work and dropping off your kids at school since it’s along the way. Buying groceries while waiting for your clothes to finish drying at the laundromat also counts.

Just as you shouldn’t take an idiom literally, accomplishing two tasks simultaneously shouldn’t be interpreted word for word. As long as you accomplish more than one thing for the single effort you put in, then you killed two birds with one stone.

Other Interpretations To “Kill Two Birds With One Stone”

Despite being popularly used to invoke efficiency and multitasking, alternative interpretations of the idiom are also available. 

In an article published by Forbes, a contributing author argues that the expression “kill two birds with one stone” contradicts itself. Brent Beshore shares that slingshots can hardly kill two birds at once. 

He adds that the phrase was initially used to frown upon people who do so much multitasking and end up with poor results. 

To elaborate on his point, the author shares how simultaneously taking calls, responding to text messages, and checking social media sites to improve efficiency have resulted in non-stop stress in many people’s daily lives.

Despite this entirely opposite take, though, the phrase is still more popularly used in a positive light to commend simultaneous accomplishments of multiple tasks. 

After all, being efficient at carrying out multiple objectives in a single stroke can also be perceived as an essential skill for managers and planners. It doesn’t always have to mean wearing yourself down to the last bit of energy you got.

For instance, when you opt to join a carpooling service, you don’t only get to your destination. You also do so at a much lower price, meet new people, and reduce traffic. That’s killing four birds with one stone, and it doesn’t involve pushing yourself to the brink of exhaustion.

There are always two sides to the coin. In this case, you can multitask but also push yourself to the brink of exhaustion, or you can bring out your planning skills and optimize your life for your own benefit.

Animal Rights Advocates Don’t Like the Phrase “Kill Two Birds With One Stone”

Often when we hear something repeatedly, we automatically associate them with their conventional meanings, which goes the same for the idiom we’re discussing. Digging deeper into word choice, however, some may see red flags that make it somewhat inappropriate for some people.

Cruelty Against Animals

Animal rights advocates, for instance, have now raised concerns that “killing two birds with one stone” may be attributed to cruelty against animals and that alternative expressions are necessary. They have since proposed “animal-friendly” substitutes.

The Debate About “Kill Two Birds With One Stone”

The internet is, of course, divided on the issue. 

While some might say that phrases like this encourage cruelty against animals, others claim that animals don’t understand words anyway. They also postulate that we all know that this does not mean that we’re killing birds but executing tasks efficiently, so changing an age-old phrase is unnecessary.

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma, though, feel free to pick the original version or some more animal-friendly iterations as you please.

Alternative Expressions To “Kill Two Birds With One Stone”

If you want to stay on the safe side and opt for less controversial versions of the expression, PETA and the rest of the internet have some suggestions. These include “feeding two birds with one scone” and “freeing two birds with one key.” 

The expressions all mean the same thing and still use birds as the subjects, but instead, involve lighter verbs such as feeding and freeing.

Changing Expressions Takes Time

Since this idiom and others like it have been in our lexicon for several hundred years, it’s unlikely that society will pick up on these new sayings anytime soon. And, if you start saying these new sayings, you’ll probably need to explain to people what they mean every time you use them.

If that doesn’t bother you, then use them as often as you wish. 

Conclusion

The phrase “killing two birds with one stone” means doing one thing that accomplishes two goals simultaneously. For instance, we can get some exercise when opting for active transport and also minimize burning fuel and releasing carbon emissions into the atmosphere. 

The idiom has become a go-to phrase to describe accomplishing two things with only one action. Recently, however, animal rights advocates have proposed alternatives to the phrase to do away with violent keywords involving animals to mean something supposedly positive. 

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