- the after end of a keel.
- the inner end of a bowsprit or jib boom.
verb (used with object)
verb (used without object)
- to arrest and imprison.
- to prevail over; render ineffectual: Superior forces laid the invaders by the heels.
- close behind: The dog followed the hunter to heel.
- under control or subjugation: The attackers were brought swiftly to heel.
Origin of heel1
- the bottom of a mast
- the after end of a ship's keel
- shabby or worn
- slovenly or careless
Word Origin for heel
Word Origin for 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."
"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).
take to one's heels
Run away, as in When the burglar alarm went off they took to their heels. This expression alludes to the fact that the heels are all one sees of a fugitive running away fast. Although similar expressions turned up from Shakespeare's time on, the exact idiom dates only from the first half of the 1800s. Also see show one's heels.
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.