What Does As the Crow Flies Mean?

As the Crow Flies Meaning

Definition: The shortest distance from one place to another.

This idiom is often used when talking about the relative distance between two different places. However, it does not describe the physical distance that a person would need to travel by car or on foot.

Rather, it tells the person the distance if he or she could go there directly, without worrying about objects blocking the way.

Imagine how a crow would fly. It would fly in a straight line without stopping, turning, or going around objects on the ground. It would take the shortest route from starting point to destination.

Origin of As the Crow Flies

as the crow flies mapThere is some speculation about how this idiom originated, but most sources point to William Kenrick as the author who first used it in print with its current meaning in the year 1767.

‘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.’ – The London Review Of English And Foreign Literature

Actually, the phrase was used in print even earlier, in the 1758 work The Critical Review: Or Annals of Literature, Volume 4. However, in this case it had a different meaning, traveling many places but only stopping at a few. This is no longer the meaning we use today.

Examples of As the Crow Flies

as the crow flies distanceNowadays, this phrase is typically used as a reference for the distance between two points. It is not very helpful, however, for giving detailed directions because it does not take into account all the twists and turns one would have to take to get around big buildings, mountains, or other obstacles on the ground.

Here is an example conversation between two friends who are discussing the location of a party they will both be attending in the evening.

Patrick: Hey, man! I heard you’re going to the party later tonight. Do you know where it is?

Ricardo: Yeah. It’s about half a mile north of here, as the crow flies.

Patrick: Oh, that’s not far at all!

Ricardo: Actually, by car, it’s closer to a mile and a half since the road has to go around the mountain.

More Examples

  • Previously, the distance was drawn in a straight line, or “as the crow flies.” But geography often made this measurement unhelpful and misleading. For example: The north rim of the Grand Canyon is roughly 10 miles away from the south rim—well within the 40-mile rule bubble—but it is 200 miles away “as the crow drives.” –The Wall Street Journal
  • Whether you are calculating air miles for rewards programs or your own curiosity, you can calculate “as the crow flies” or by the path most often taken from airport to airport. –USA Today

Summary: Distance As the Crow Flies

The English idiom as the crow flies is a popular way to describe the shortest distance from point A to point B, without worrying about the objects in between.

It’s great to use this expression to give a reference for a location. However, it’s not necessarily the best choice for giving detailed directions on how to get to a place by car or on foot.