As the Crow Flies – Idiom, Origin and Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

In our everyday conversations, idiomatic expressions can create an easy way for us to express ideas and certain concepts. The idiom “as the crow flies” is a popular one, especially in America, and the English phrase is mostly used to describe distances. So, let’s take a second to dig deep into this phrase and see how you should really be using it.

What Is the Meaning of “As the Crow Flies”?

As the Crow Flies Idiom Origin Meaning

“As the crow flies” is a quirky idiom we use to indicate the shortest possible distance or the direct route between two points. This number is measured in a straight line without considering any obstacles or detours.

It’s a phrase used when discussing distances in travel and emphasizes that the actual distance you’re going to travel on land will be longer because of roads or terrain.

Where Does the Expression “As the Crow Flies” Come From?

The origin of this expression came around sometime in the early 19th century from sailors and other people who used birds like crows to deliver messages. They kept a cage of crows or other intelligent birds and then set a bird loose with a note attached to its legs when they wanted to send a message. By land, the distance would be much longer, but a crow flying overhead would have no obstacles.

One of the first published appearances was in Charles Dickens’s famous 1838 novel Oliver Twist, where he said, “We cut over the fields at the back with him between us – straight as the crow flies – through hedge and ditch.”

What Is a Synonym for “As the Crow Flies”?

I know some people consider old phrases like this to be outdated, and they don’t always fit in modern contexts. If that’s the case for you, try any of these words and phrases in place of it!

  • In a straight line.
  • In a beeline.
  • Directly.
  • Line of sight.
  • Point A to Point B.
  • Straight-line distance.
  • As the bird flies.

As the Crow Flies Examples in a Sentence

As the Crow Flies Idiom Origin Meaning 1

These sentences will give you a better idea of how to use the idiomatic phrase in either conversation or writing.

  • The nearest grocery store is five miles away as the crow flies, but it takes about eight miles to get there if you’re driving.
  • Living on the prairies and dry land, the shortest distance as the crow flies is actually pretty accurate because the roads are flat and straight. 
  • Calgary is only 50 miles away as the crow flies, but the winding roads from the South make the trip so much longer.
  • The local hiking trail covers a distance of about ten miles, but it’s actually only six miles as the crow flies.
  • My boyfriend lives just two miles from my house as the crow flies, but the river forces us to take a longer route back and forth.
  • The distance between our two cities is approximately 100 miles as the crow flies, but I discovered it’s more like 150 miles after driving from one to the other.

As the Crow Flies Above

And that’s a wrap on another fun idiomatic phrase. Learn about as many idioms as you can because they make your speech and writing so much more colorful. Check out all our other breakdowns of idiomatic phrases and fun words you can add to your vocabulary!