Thursday 20 September 2007

A lot of people use the expression “to kill two birds with one stone”. But I think the people who use it willy-nilly are underestimating the difficulty of actually killing two birds with one stone.

I’m not even sure how you would go about killing two birds with one stone. But I had a brainstorm and decided there were a few different ways:

  1. You have to throw the stone at a bird, clonk it on the head and kill it with a mere glancing hit, and the stone then has to ricochet into another bird, killing that too. Unlikely.
  2. You have so throw the stone so hard that it goes straight through the first bird and continues fast enough to take out a bird behind it. Hmm.
  3. You throw a stone and kill a bird, then go and retrieve the stone and kill another one. Unless you’re doing this on fairly flat, vegetation-free ground (like a tarmac car park), which seems pretty unlikely if you’re having to resort to killing birds with stones, this is probably significantly trickier than just finding a new stone to kill the second bird. Also, it feels a bit like cheating—the expression means to simultaneously achieve two difficult tasks, and this method achieves them consecutively instead, but still fulfils the saying on a technicality. Weak.
  4. You sneak up on a bird, or possibly two birds, and use the stone as a melee weapon, clubbing the bastard(s) to death and then, if you only snuck up on one bird, repeat (which means you’re doing the consecutive technicality cheating thing again). This is made harder by the fact that birds can fly, which you probably can’t, and that most prey birds have pretty much 360° vision, so are pretty hard to sneak up on. Rubbish.
  5. If you can find a number of ground-nesting birds on a hillside, and have a very large and fairly round stone (probably more of a boulder than a stone, really), you could roll it down the hillside and probably manage to take out at least two birds. But it’s hassle getting a huge boulder onto the top of a hill, and the resulting birds, whilst dead, are useless and squashed (I assume the original object of this saying was to get birds for eating or feathers or something and not to merely kill them for no reason).
  6. You could fashion the stone into all or part of a bird-killing machine, thus allowing a potentially indefinite number of bird fatalities to come about at its hand. However, it’s pretty hard to make a particularly complicated machine out of a tiny stone and, even if you could, “killing several birds with one bird-killing machine” isn’t quite so punchy.

“I’m off to the supermarket now, so I’m going to get some bread, and some milk, thus killing two birds with one stone,” doesn’t really compare to the phenomenal difficulty inherent in any of the methods proposed above.

Should this idiot idiom be consigned to the scrap heap, or am I missing something? Is there a simple way to effect two-for-one bird murder?


  1. You could. I don’t think it would be too hard either. Put a stone in a spud gun with plenty of wadding, and align it with two birds sitting on the ridge of a roof. You’ll have to see our new spud gun when it’s finished. It has a 50 mm barrel rated at 200 bar. But to do it by hand might be hard!


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