take one's heels

take one's heels


  1. the back part of the human foot, below and behind the ankle.
  2. an analogous part in other vertebrates.
  3. either hind foot or hoof of some animals, as the horse.
  4. the foot as a whole: He was hung by the heels.
  5. the part of a stocking, shoe, or the like covering the back part of the wearer’s foot.
  6. 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.
  7. heels, high-heeled shoes.
  8. something resembling the back part of the human foot in position, shape, etc.: a heel of bread.
  9. the rear of the palm, adjacent to the wrist.
  10. the latter or concluding part of anything: the heel of a session.
  11. the lower end of any of various more or less vertical objects, as rafters, spars, or the sternposts of vessels.
  12. Nautical.
    1. the after end of a keel.
    2. the inner end of a bowsprit or jib boom.
  13. the crook in the head of a golf club.
  14. Building Trades. the exterior angle of an angle iron.
  15. Railroads. the end of a frog farthest from a switch.
  16. 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.

verb (used with object)

  1. to follow at the heels of; chase closely.
  2. to furnish with heels, as shoes.
  3. to perform (a dance) with the heels.
  4. Golf. to strike (the ball) with the heel of the club.
  5. to arm (a gamecock) with spurs.

verb (used without object)

  1. (of a dog) to follow at one’s heels on command.
  2. to use the heels, as in dancing.

Verb Phrases

  1. heel in, to cover temporarily (the roots and most of the stem of a plant) with soil prior to permanent planting.


  1. at one’s heels, close behind one: The police are at his heels.Also at heel.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. his heels, Cribbage. a jack turned up as a starter, counting two points for the dealer.
  5. kick up one’s heels, to have a vigorously entertaining time; frolic: Grandfather could still kick up his heels now and then.
  6. lay by the heels,
    1. to arrest and imprison.
    2. to prevail over; render ineffectual: Superior forces laid the invaders by the heels.
  7. on/upon the heels of, closely following; in quick succession of: On the heels of the hurricane came an outbreak of looting.
  8. 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.
  9. take to one’s heels, to run away; take flight: The thief took to his heels as soon as he saw the police.
  10. to heel,
    1. close behind: The dog followed the hunter to heel.
    2. under control or subjugation: The attackers were brought swiftly to heel.


  1. the back part of the human foot from the instep to the lower part of the ankleCompare calcaneus
  2. the corresponding part in other vertebrates
  3. the part of a shoe, stocking, etc, designed to fit the heel
  4. the outer part of a shoe underneath the heel
  5. the part of the palm of a glove nearest the wrist
  6. the lower, end, or back section of somethingthe heel of a loaf
  7. horticulture the small part of the parent plant that remains attached to a young shoot cut for propagation and that ensures more successful rooting
  8. nautical
    1. the bottom of a mast
    2. the after end of a ship’s keel
  9. the back part of a golf club head where it bends to join the shaft
  10. rugby possession of the ball as obtained from a scrum (esp in the phrase get the heel)
  11. slang a contemptible person
  12. at one’s heels or on one’s heels just behind or following closely
  13. dig one’s heels in See dig in (def. 5)
  14. down at heel
    1. shabby or worn
    2. slovenly or careless
  15. kick one’s heels or cool one’s heels to wait or be kept waiting
  16. rock back on one’s heels to astonish or be astonished
  17. show a clean pair of heels to run off
  18. take to one’s heels to run off
  19. to heel disciplined or under control, as a dog walking by a person’s heel


  1. (tr) to repair or replace the heel of (shoes, boots, etc)
  2. to perform (a dance) with the heels
  3. (tr) golf to strike (the ball) with the heel of the club
  4. rugby to kick (the ball) backwards using the sole and heel of the boot
  5. to follow at the heels of (a person)
  6. (tr) to arm (a gamecock) with spurs
  7. (tr) NZ (of a cattle dog) to drive (cattle) by biting their heels


  1. (of a vessel) to lean over; list


  1. inclined position from the verticalthe boat is at ten degrees of heel

v.1of a dog, “to follow or stop at a person’s heels,” 1810, from heel (n.1). Also cf. heeled. n.1“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.” v.2“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. n.2“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). n.

  1. The rounded posterior portion of the foot under and behind the ankle.
  2. A similar anatomical part, such as the rounded base of the palm.

see 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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