or down-at-the-heel

[doun-uh t-thuh-heelz or doun-uh t-thuh-heel]


of a shabby, run-down appearance; seedy: He is rapidly becoming a down-at-heel drifter and a drunk.

Also down-at-heel, down-at-heels.

Origin of down-at-the-heels

First recorded in 1695–1705




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.
  1. the after end of a keel.
  2. 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.

verb (used with object)

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.

verb (used without object)

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

Verb Phrases

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

Origin of heel

before 850; Middle English; Old English hēl(a); cognate with Dutch hiel, Old Norse hǣll. See hock1
Related formsheel·less, adjective
Can be confusedheal heel he'll Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for down-at-heel

Historical Examples of down-at-heel

  • Its latter days were dreary, down-at-heel, and disreputable enough.

    Art in England

    Dutton Cook

  • What a tousled-haired, down-at-heel, out-at-elbows Clerkenwell exile!

    Nights in London

    Thomas Burke

  • There were two or three buckeens in the hall, and Darby and one of the down-at-heel serving-boys were laying the evening meal.

    The Wild Geese

    Stanley John Weyman

  • Nothing swept and garnished; nothing evincing one grain of past or present reverence—a down-at-heel indifferent idolatry.

  • She looked complacently down at her stubby little feet in their down-at-heel beaded slippers.

    Olive in Italy

    Moray Dalton

British Dictionary definitions for down-at-heel




the back part of the human foot from the instep to the lower part of the ankleCompare 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 somethingthe 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
  1. the bottom of a mast
  2. 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 or on one's heels just behind or following closely
dig one's heels in See dig in (def. 5)
down at heel
  1. shabby or worn
  2. slovenly or careless
kick one's heels or 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


(tr) to repair or replace the heel of (shoes, boots, etc)
to perform (a dance) with the heels
(tr) 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)
(tr) to arm (a gamecock) with spurs
(tr) NZ (of a cattle dog) to drive (cattle) by biting their heels
Derived Formsheelless, adjective

Word Origin for heel

Old English hēla; related to Old Norse hǣll, Old Frisian hêl




(of a vessel) to lean over; list


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

Word Origin for heel

Old English hieldan; related to Old Norse hallr inclined, Old High German helden to bow
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for down-at-heel



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



"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."



"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.



"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).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

down-at-heel in Medicine




The rounded posterior portion of the foot under and behind the ankle.
A similar anatomical part, such as the rounded base of the palm.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.

Idioms and Phrases with down-at-heel


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.

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.