Down at the heels is an idiom with origins reaching back nearly three hundred years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. We will examine the definition of the phrase down at the heels, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.
Down at the heels describes someone or something who is not prosperous, someone or something who has sustained a run of bad luck that has left them poverty-stricken. In this case, the reference is to the fact that someone’s lack of funds may be betrayed by how worn out his clothing has become. The earliest known use of the idiom down at the heels occurred in the 1730s, in A gentleman instructed in the conduct of a virtuous and happy life by William Darrell. When used as an adjective before a noun, the phrase is hyphenated as in down-at-the-heels. The term is sometimes rendered as down at the heel.
At the epicenter of the counterculture was the down-at-the-heels district of Haight-Ashbury, which had been colonized by a number of alternative communities. (The Week Magazine)
It would be a fair bet to say that seeing an opera was a first for many of the evening’s attendees in this down-at-the-heels neighborhood, which periodically makes news for its drug gangs, daylight shootings and protests against foreigners moving into the local public housing projects. (The New York Times)
So much so, that we’ve recently joined in the redevelopment of the old Redwood Motel — a quintessential but down-at-the-heels moto-lodge on Route 2 between North Adams and Williamstown — into Tourists, a new outdoor retreat and lodge on the banks of the Hoosic River in the West End of North Adams. (The Berkshire Eagle)