Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Episode 145: Kill Two Birds With One Stone Show Notes

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Bunny Trails: A Word History Podcast

Episode 145: Kill Two Birds With One Stone

Record Date: February 13, 2022

Air Date: February 16, 2022



Welcome to Bunny Trails, a whimsical adventure of idioms and other turns of phrase. 

I’m Dan Pugh


And I’m Shauna Harrison

Each week we take an idiom or other turn of phrase and try to tell the story from its entry into the English language, to how it’s used today.

This week we are talking about the moment when someone has a genius idea or takes an action that takes care of more than one thing at a time. 


The trusty Oxford English Dictionary tells us to kill two birds with one stone means, quote: 

to accomplish two different purposes by the same act or proceeding.

-End quote

It’s pretty straightforward. 

Dan - any ideas on when or how this phrase started? 

The first attestation I was able to find in print is from the 1611 work A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues By Randle Cotgrave. It has a beautifully designed title page. 

This book shares words and phrases in both their French and English versions or translations. 

In this case, quote: 

D’une pierre faire deux coups,

To kill two birds with one stone (say we.)

-End quote 

This is a direct translation, but it is also the English version of the phrase. To help explain the difference, here is another excerpt from the book. This entry is for the phrase: 

La pierre est eschappe.

The direct translation of this phrase would be,

The stone is gone

However, the book provides the following, quote: 

My word is past; 

the dice be cast; 

the thing is already granted, and gone.

-End quote

So in this case, it provided both alternative sayings and meanings and none of them contain the word stone which seemed to be one of the key words in the French version. Honestly, this is an impressive work that must have take a very long time to complete when considering such nuance. 

This means that a definition was not necessary in 1611, so people understood the phrase’s meaning. 

Was this an idiom people were using in French and then we adopted it in English and it just sort of stayed in the lexicon? Perhaps. 

Some look to an older origin…

It is to be believed that the phrase was originated from the story of Daedalus and Icarus from Greek Mythology. Daedalus killed two birds with one stone in order to get the feathers of the birds and make the wings. The father and son who escaped from the Labyrinth on Crete by making wings and flying out.

There is a lovely illustrated video telling of their story on youtube from Ted-Ed. It does mention the feathers and wings, but it simply states that the feathers were from birds that perched on the tower where Daedalus was held. 

The story is told many places and I struggled to find retellings from trusted sources that include our phrase for today.  

Another fun theory I saw in a few places was that this originated with hunters telling stories on their impressive accomplishments and how they either had once actually killed two birds with one stone or that they had seen it done. 

This may be one we never get the real story on. But we’ve at least tracked it back to the early 1600’s 

In 1653 a work was published titled Lazarillo, Or, the Excellent History of Lazarillo de Tormes. The listed contributors are David ROWLAND (of Anglesea) and Juan de LUNA (Interpreter of the Spanish Language)

I will just jump right into this one, quote: 

-End quote. 

He was getting back at someone and also saving his own life from a mob intent on killing the person they felt had wronged them. 

I loved finding such a great example of this idiom so early on. Clearly we are still using it in basically the same manner.

In 1656 we see the phrase used against a well-known individual in history. 

The” Questions concerning liberty, necessity and chance : clearly stated and debated between Dr. Bramhall, bishop of Derry and Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury is a work published at a later date (1841), but detailing letters and other writings from the listed individuals. Part of the writing is from a counter to Hobbe’s discourse which is labeled only with the initials J.D. - one excerpt reads, quote: 

-End quote. 

And then he goes on for pages about each point. A little bit of a harsh comment, there. 

Next, thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, we have the Horfield and Bishopston Record and Montepelier & District Free Press out of Bristol county, England. From the Saturday April 8, 1905 edition, we find this ad, quote: 

-End quote. 

Located thanks to the Chronicling America website, our next item is from the December 24, 1915 edition of The Day Book out of Chicago, Illinois, United States. There is a helpful? piece for women about hair, quote: 


-End quote 

This one is an odd piece, that I suppose speaks to the time in which it was written more than anything. But there you have it. 

Before we get to today’s uses of our phrase, we want to say thank you to our sponsors. 

A Quick Thank You


This episode is sponsored by our amazing Patrons on Patreon.

You can help support this educational artform and get awesome perks along the way! Tiers start at $3 a month, which get you our polls and community-only discussions, early access to the podcast, and the behind the scenes video for each episode so you can watch along as we make the show. That’s less than one coffee shop drink per month. 

At $10 you’ll also get original digital artwork from Shauna once a month featuring exclusive art about an idiom or other turn of phrase. At $15, you’ll also get personal on-air recognition like Pat Rowe does every episode. And of course huge thanks goes to the top spot among our Patrons, our Dean of Learning, Mary Halsig-Lopez. Thank you so much to Mary and all of our patrons. 

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Modern Uses

In Music… 

Two Birds, One Stone is a 2009 Rock/Metal song by Drop Dead, Gorgeous. Some lyrics include, quote: 

Love is what we lost

We had a connection

This feeling has gone too far

And killed

Two birds with one stone

A terrible love song

You sang it so sweet

-End quote


A book… 

The book Two Birds with One Stone by Sigrid Vansandt was published in 2015. Here is some info from the publisher, quote: 

It's a beautiful summer and the busy village of Marsden-Lacey, England, has murder on its mind. Someone just whacked everyone's least favorite villager, Sir Carstons, on his villainous head. That's when American expats, paralegal Martha Littleword and book expert Helen Ryes, find themselves knee-deep in Yorkshire murder. Spirited empty-nesters, they throw their newbie detective hats into the ring, only to discover that a murder mystery can quickly turn from adventurous lark into personal peril.

With a dash of Southern charm and humor, and the help of a few quirky villagers, the girls just might survive. They'll also have to figure out how to handle the local catch-of-the-day, Piers Cousins, and the cantankerous Chief of Police, DCI Johns. Will they or won't they? If they do, they might solve a murder, or two, along with a hundred-year-old mystery involving a Brontë sister and a famous piece of English history.

Happy reading!

This cozy mystery series contains no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.

-End quote 

The video: The Man who Killed Two Birds With One Stone - Ben Bailey Standup was posted on youtube on Feb 10, 2020

In the clip, he discusses just how easy it is to kill two birds with one stone and the variables involved that might allow one to still make that same claim. Now, I’m not a follower of stand-up comedy, but the crowd was laughing. 


In the News…

The Boston Sports Journal, shared an article on January 26, 2022 titled, A deal for J.T. Miller could kill two birds with one stone for Bruins. The article discusses the current dynamics including struggles and hopes for the team and ends with the following, quote: 

And if the Bruins are indeed looking to kill two birds with one stone when it comes to both upgrading this current roster and putting a key cog in place for contention in 2022-23 and potentially beyond, Vancouver’s J.T. Miller sure makes plenty of sense.

-End quote. 

From the Twitterverse… 

First I have to say that there were far more results than I was anticipating on Twitter. But I scoured through and found my favorite that is not related to anything political and is not horribly snarky mean, either. Kudos to this person for keeping things positive! 

Reg The Sledge says, quote: 

-End quote. 

Wrap up...

I like this phrase. It’s basically just a way to say someone is working smarter, not harder. More efficiency, less effort. Nothing wrong with that! Most people in the U.S. are not running around with a slingshot trying to knock birds out of the sky… well, maybe it is more common in the 9-13 age range? … but the phrase has stuck around for hundreds of years. It is something people can understand despite not participating in the activity. It’s used to refer to situations from every end of the spectrum. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the concept. I think it will stick around for quite awhile. 



That’s about all the time we have for today. If you have any thoughts on the show, or pop culture references we should have included, reach out to us on social media where we are @bunnytrailspod, or comment on our website - Of course, the best way to make sure we see your comment is to post it on the Patreon page!


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I'd probably 60% Griffindor, 20% Ravenclaw, 20% Slytherin, and >1% Hufflepuff. Which only works if you consider rounding errors. 


It's important for you to know that you are zero % hufflepuff.


Fair point. 


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Thanks for joining us. We’ll talk to you again next week. And until then remember... 


Words belong to their users

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