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Well heeled

Q From Michael McKinney: Any interesting tidbits about the expression well heeled?

A Well-heeled never had anything to do with people being well shod (so it has no link with down at heel). The original expression came from cock-fighting, and meant to provide one’s bird with good, sharp spurs (considered, it would seem, as a kind of artificial heel) that would inflict the most damage. It was taken over into American usage in frontier days to mean that one was likewise carrying a weapon, but in the more modern sense of a gun (the first recorded use is from a story of Mark Twain’s dated 1866). Only later did it transfer its meaning to being armed with a more powerful weapon still: money.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 3 Oct. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 3 October 1998.