take to one's heels


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take to (one's) heels

To flee or run away. The youths took to their heels when they heard the police officers approaching.
See also: heel, take

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 also: heel, take

take to one's heels, to

To flee. Clearly this term does not refer to running on one’s heels, which would not make for a particularly rapid escape. Rather, the heels are all one sees of a person who turns tail (see also turn tail). Thus Shakespeare wrote: “Darest thou . . . play the coward . . . and show it a fair pair of heels and run from it?” (Henry IV, Part 1, 2.4). John Ray recorded “show them a fair pair of heels” in his 1678 proverb collection, but in the nineteenth century it became a clean pair of heels (with Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, among others). The current cliché dates from the nineteenth century as well. Henry Thomas Riley (1816–78) used it in his translation of Terence’s play Eunuchus: “I took to my heels as fast as I could.”
See also: take