bring to heel: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘bring to heel’ mean?

"Bring to heel" means to control or subdue someone or something, usually in a forceful manner, and make them obey or submit to authority.

Idiom Explorer

Surprise Origins

The idiom "bring to heel" is a common expression in the English language. It means to bring someone or something under control, usually with the implication of exerting authority or discipline.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the practice of training dogs to walk obediently beside their owners. In this context, "bring to heel" refers to the action of bringing a dog back to its owner's side by pulling on its leash.

Believed to have originated in the late 19th century, the idiom gained popularity during the early 20th century.

Beyond its literal reference to dog training, "bring to heel" is often used metaphorically to describe the act of regaining control or discipline over a person or a situation.

This versatile idiom can be used in various contexts, such as politics, relationships, or business, to describe the need to assert authority and rein in unruly behavior.

An analysis of the idiom "bring to heel" unveils its meaning and origins, shedding light on its historical usage and enduring relevance. The idiom, which refers to the act of bringing someone or something under control, finds its roots in the practice of dog training. The phrase "bring to heel" gained popularity in the late 19th century and has continued to be used extensively throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Its metaphorical usage further extends its applicability beyond the realm of dog training, allowing it to encapsulate the broader concept of exerting authority and disciplining unruly behavior.

Heel your dog to assert control and authority.

The idiom's versatility is evident in its application to various contexts. Whether in politics, relationships, or business, the need to bring someone or something to heel remains a universal concept. By employing this idiom, speakers can effectively convey the notion of regaining control and asserting authority over a given situation or individual.

The idiom "bring to bear" is closely related to "bring to heel". It means to bring something or someone to bear or apply it or themselves to a task or problem. This idiom further emphasizes the act of exerting control or influence over a situation or individual.

The idiom "down at heel" is also related to "bring to heel". It describes someone who is in a poor or shabby condition, often implying a lack of control or stability in their life. Bringing such a person "to heel" would involve helping them regain stability and control over their circumstances.

"hold the reins" is another idiom connected to "bring to heel". It means to be in control of a situation or have authority over it. Just as one would hold the reins of a horse to steer and guide it, holding the reins in a figurative sense involves taking charge and directing the course of events.

The idiom "at one's feet" is also associated with "bring to heel". It means to have someone completely under one's influence or control. When someone is brought to heel, they are submissive and obedient, figuratively at the feet of those in authority.

Lastly, "bend to one's will" can be linked to "bring to heel". It refers to the act of making someone do what one wants, often through the exertion of authority or influence. "Bring to heel" can be seen as a metaphorical representation of bending someone to one's will, asserting control and ensuring compliance.

The idiom "bring to heel" holds a firm position in the English language, enriched by its historical origins and metaphorical usage. Its enduring relevance reflects the timeless quest for control and discipline, making it an indispensable phrase in both everyday conversation and professional discourse. The idiom's rich history and multifaceted nature continue to fascinate, leaving room for further exploration and contemplation.

Example usage


  1. After many years of disobedience, the unruly dog finally brought its owner to heel.
  2. The new manager wasted no time in bringing the underperforming employees to heel.
  3. The strict coach was able to bring the undisciplined team to heel and transform them into champions.

The idiom "bring to heel" is often used in situations where someone or something needs to be controlled or disciplined. It can be used both literally and figuratively. In a literal sense, the idiom refers to the act of training a dog to walk obediently alongside its owner by teaching it to stay close and respond to commands. Figuratively, "bring to heel" is used when someone or something is being made to conform or comply with rules, authority, or expectations. This could apply to various scenarios such as managing disobedient employees, getting a group under control, or reining in an unruly situation.

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