As the car drives

Yesterday’s Bizarro,  with a play on as the crow flies:

As the car drives — on roads that follow complex and twisted routes.

From Michael Quinion’s World Wide Words of 6/4/11, after considering an assortment of complex and twisted derivations of the idiom:

The true explanation lies in British country lore that’s based on observation of the birds. Anyone who has watched a crow flying any distance knows it tends to do so in a steady, unwavering line — not always, but then this is a generalisation of a tendency, not invariable fact. Since the flight of the crow is unaffected by obstacles on the ground, its route came to represent the shortest distance between two points.

This is the earliest example I’ve so far found:

Now the country that those Indians inhabit is upwards of 400 miles broad, and above 600 long, each as the crow flies. (The Gentleman’s and London Magazine, Dec. 1761.)

And this slightly later one makes the link explicit:

The Spaniard, if on foot, always travels as the crow flies, which the openness and dryness of the country permits; neither rivers nor the steepest mountains stop his course, he swims over the one, and scales the other, and by this means shortens his journey so considerably, that he can carry an express with greater expedition than any horseman. (The Political Magazine, Nov. 1782.)

One Response to “As the car drives”

  1. Alon Says:

    My native Spanish has a similar construction (a vuelo de pájaro, lit. ‘as the bird flies’). Although I’ve only found attestations from the 19th century onwards, it’s clearly a calque of the French à vol d’oiseau, which is much earlier; here‘s a 1678 example. I wonder whether these all come from a common source in the end.

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