fell » foul
Spotted in the wild:
- crime fiction junkies…, after discovering what they are hunting for, with one foul swoop, grab the latest literary tome (BETWEEN THE LINES - Fiction Home Page)
- Cut and paste has never been this easy… delete all in one foul swoop. (Microsoft Office Assistance: Top ten reasons to work in task panes)
- Written words… used improperly or without due care & attention they can destroy all the good work you have done in one foul swoop. (Christian Times eBusiness Newsletter - How to Write Killer Marketing Copy)
- So, in one foul swoop, and it is a very foul one, Edwina Currie has bought some colour back into politics: a stinging red blush to John Major’s wan cheeks, turning the Grey Man into a flesh-pink sexual athlete and his kiss’n'tell mistress… (a Guardian Unlimited book review)
- Their whole livelihood had been taken away in one foul swoop (Herald Sun article - Aussie in Gaza stand)
- The real dirty deed was done with his statement: “[statement omitted].” In one foul swoop the… [critique of the statement] (A Case for Ethics - Media Monitors Network)
The word ‘foul’ (offensive, noxious, unfair) could often apply to that which is ‘fell’ (fierce, ruthless, terrible, deadly). The above example relating to the forced eviction of settlers in Gaza is such an example. This coincidence of meaning and the words’ similarity in sound combined the low awareness of the word ‘fell’ creates the ideal conditions for an eggcorn.
The Concise Oxford defines ‘at one fell swoop’ as ‘in a single (deadly) action’. Popular use of the phrase and the eggcorn often draws on the ’single action’ part of the meaning only. For example, deleting all items at once from your Microsoft Office clipboard is neither offensive nor deadly. Though it can be done in one single action this swoop would be neither foul nor fell. Hence either meaning is equally [in]appropriate. The same applies to the Between The Lines example.
The Guardian Unlimited book reviewer in another example above may have quite knowingly used the eggcorn because the word foul is so appropriate in the context of a kiss and tell biography.
Media Monitors’ A Case for Ethics talks about ‘a dirty deed’ thus underlining the new meaning of the eggcorn.
In a somewhat self-referencing example, the Christian Times writer used written words improperly and thus partially destroyed some of his own good work.
See also fell»fowl.
[CW, 2005/08/29: marked as “questionable”. The substitution certainly involves a semantic reinterpretation, but phonetically, the distance between _fell_ and _foul_ is rather a stretch.]