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,
    1. to arrest and imprison.
    2. 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,
    1. close behind: The dog followed the hunter to heel.
    2. under control or subjugation: The attackers were brought swiftly to heel.

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

British Dictionary definitions for kick up one's heels




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 kick up one's heels



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

Medicine definitions for kick up one's heels




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 kick up one's heels

kick up one's heels

Enjoy oneself, as in When she retires, she plans to kick up her heels and travel. This expression originated about 1600 with a totally different meaning, “to be killed.” The modern sense, alluding to a prancing horse or exuberant dancer, dates from about 1900.


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.