At ones heels

the back part of the human foot, below and behind the ankle.
an analogous part in other vertebrates.
either hind foot or hoof of some animals, as the horse.
the foot as a whole:
He was hung by the heels.
the part of a stocking, shoe, or the like covering the back part of the wearer’s foot.
a solid, raised base or support of leather, wood, rubber, etc., attached to the sole of a shoe or boot under the back part of the foot.
heels, high-heeled shoes.
something resembling the back part of the human foot in position, shape, etc.:
a heel of bread.
the rear of the palm, adjacent to the wrist.
the latter or concluding part of anything:
the heel of a session.
the lower end of any of various more or less vertical objects, as rafters, spars, or the sternposts of vessels.

the after end of a keel.
the inner end of a bowsprit or jib boom.

the crook in the head of a golf club.
Building Trades. the exterior angle of an angle iron.
Railroads. the end of a frog farthest from a switch.
Horticulture. the base of any part, as of a cutting or tuber, that is removed from a plant for use in the propagation of that plant.
to follow at the heels of; chase closely.
to furnish with heels, as shoes.
to perform (a dance) with the heels.
Golf. to strike (the ball) with the heel of the club.
to arm (a gamecock) with spurs.
(of a dog) to follow at one’s heels on command.
to use the heels, as in dancing.
heel in, to cover temporarily (the roots and most of the stem of a plant) with soil prior to permanent planting.
at one’s heels, close behind one:
The police are at his heels.
Also, at heel.
cool one’s heels, to be kept waiting, especially because of deliberate discourtesy:
The producer let the actors who were waiting to be auditioned cool their heels in the outer office.
down at the heels, having a shabby, slipshod, or slovenly appearance.
Also, down at heel, down at the heel, out at heels, out at the heels.
his heels, Cribbage. a jack turned up as a starter, counting two points for the dealer.
kick up one’s heels, to have a vigorously entertaining time; frolic:
Grandfather could still kick up his heels now and then.
lay by the heels,

to arrest and imprison.
to prevail over; render ineffectual:
Superior forces laid the invaders by the heels.

on / upon the heels of, closely following; in quick succession of:
On the heels of the hurricane came an outbreak of looting.
show a clean pair of heels, to leave one’s pursuers or competitors behind; outrun:
The thief showed his victim a clean pair of heels.
Also, show one’s heels to.
take to one’s heels, to run away; take flight:
The thief took to his heels as soon as he saw the police.
to heel,

close behind:
The dog followed the hunter to heel.
under control or subjugation:
The attackers were brought swiftly to heel.

the back part of the human foot from the instep to the lower part of the ankle Compare calcaneus
the corresponding part in other vertebrates
the part of a shoe, stocking, etc, designed to fit the heel
the outer part of a shoe underneath the heel
the part of the palm of a glove nearest the wrist
the lower, end, or back section of something: the heel of a loaf
(horticulture) the small part of the parent plant that remains attached to a young shoot cut for propagation and that ensures more successful rooting

the bottom of a mast
the after end of a ship’s keel

the back part of a golf club head where it bends to join the shaft
(rugby) possession of the ball as obtained from a scrum (esp in the phrase get the heel)
(slang) a contemptible person
at one’s heels, on one’s heels, just behind or following closely
dig one’s heels in, See dig in (sense 5)
down at heel

shabby or worn
slovenly or careless

kick one’s heels, cool one’s heels, to wait or be kept waiting
rock back on one’s heels, to astonish or be astonished
show a clean pair of heels, to run off
take to one’s heels, to run off
to heel, disciplined or under control, as a dog walking by a person’s heel
(transitive) to repair or replace the heel of (shoes, boots, etc)
to perform (a dance) with the heels
(transitive) (golf) to strike (the ball) with the heel of the club
(rugby) to kick (the ball) backwards using the sole and heel of the boot
to follow at the heels of (a person)
(transitive) to arm (a gamecock) with spurs
(transitive) (NZ) (of a cattle dog) to drive (cattle) by biting their heels
(of a vessel) to lean over; list
inclined position from the vertical: the boat is at ten degrees of heel

“back of the foot,” Old English hela, from Proto-Germanic *hanhilon (cf. Old Norse hæll, Old Frisian hel, Dutch hiel), from PIE *kenk- (3) “heel, bend of the knee” (cf. Old English hoh “hock”).

Meaning “back of a shoe or boot” is c.1400. Down at heels (1732) refers to heels of boots or shoes worn down and the owner too poor to replace them. For Achilles’ heel “only vulnerable spot” see Achilles. To “fight with (one’s) heels” (fighten with heles) in Middle English meant “to run away.”

“contemptible person,” 1914 in U.S. underworld slang, originally “incompetent or worthless criminal,” perhaps from a sense of “person in the lowest position” and thus from heel (n.1).

of a dog, “to follow or stop at a person’s heels,” 1810, from heel (n.1). Also cf. heeled.

“to lean to one side,” in reference to a ship, Old English hieldan “incline, lean, slope,” from Proto-Germanic *helthijanan (cf. Middle Dutch helden “to lean,” Dutch hellen, Old Norse hallr “inclined,” Old High German halda, German halde “slope, declivity”). Re-spelled 16c. from Middle English hield, probably by misinterpretation of -d as a past tense suffix.

heel (hēl)

The rounded posterior portion of the foot under and behind the ankle.

A similar anatomical part, such as the rounded base of the palm.


A sneak thief; petty criminal; punk (1914+ Underworld)
A petty hawker; shill (1930+ Carnival)
A contemptible man; blackguard; bastard, prick, shitheel: His friend turned out to be a heel, and ran off with his wife and money (1925+)
: They made a clean heel from Leavenworth


To escape from prison (1950s+ Underworld)
To get a gun for oneself or another person (1873+)

Related Terms

cool one’s heels, roundheel, shitheel, tarheel

[last sense fr heel, ”arm a fighting cock with a gaff or spur,” found by 1755]

Achilles’ heel
at someone’s heels
bring to heel
cool one’s heels
dig in (one’s heels)
drag one’s feet (heels)
head over heels
kick up one’s heels
on the heels of
out at the elbows (heels)
set back on one’s heels
show one’s heels
take to one’s heels
to heel
turn on one’s heel


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