As the crow flies

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A crow flying across the terrain

The expression as the crow flies is an idiom for the most direct path between two points, rather similar to "in a beeline". This meaning is attested from the early 19th century,[1][2] and appeared in Charles Dickens's 1838 novel Oliver Twist:

We cut over the fields at the back with him between us – straight as the crow flies – through hedge and ditch.[1]

Crows do conspicuously fly alone across open country, but neither crows nor bees (as in "beeline") fly in particularly straight lines.[3] While crows do not swoop in the air like swallows or starlings, they often circle above their nests.[3]

One suggested origin of the term is that before modern navigational methods were introduced, cages of crows were kept upon ships and a bird would be released from the crow's nest when required to assist navigation, in the hope that it would fly directly towards land.[1] However, the earliest recorded uses of the term are not nautical in nature, and the crow's nest of a ship is thought to derive from its shape and position rather than its use as a platform for releasing crows.[1] It has also been suggested that crows would not travel well in cages, as they fight if confined.[4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Allen, Robert (2008). Allen's Dictionary of English Phrases. Penguin UK. ISBN 9780141917689.
  2. ^ Knowles, Elizabeth (2006). The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Oxford University Press, UK. ISBN 9780191578564.
  3. ^ a b Villazon, Luis. “Do crows actually fly in a straight line?”, BBC Focus (August 30, 2017).
  4. ^ "World Wide Words: As the crow flies". World Wide Words.

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