Achilles' heelA·chil·les' heel
Origin of Achilles' heelFrom Achilles' being vulnerable only in the heel.
(plural Achilles' heels)
- Alternative spelling of Achilles heel.
(plural Achilles heels)
- A vulnerability in an otherwise strong situation.
- (anatomy) The Achilles' tendon, the tendo Achillis.
From Greek hero Achilles, whom according to legend his mother held by the heel when she dipped him in the River Styx, making him invulnerable everywhere except on his heel.
The legend of Achilles has it that he was dipped into the river Styx by his mother Thetis in order to make him invulnerable. His heel wasn't covered by the water and he was later killed by an arrow wound to his heel.
Although the legend is ancient, the phrase wasn't picked up in English until the 19th century. It is used as a metaphor for vulnerability, as in the earliest citation, an essay by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in The Friend; a literary, moral and political weekly paper, 1810:
"Ireland, that vulnerable heel of the British Achilles!"