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Hairy at the heel

Hairy at the heel
To be ill-bred or untrustworthy.

Hairy at the heel

This disapproving phrase was used in the late nineteenth century by the upper middle classes and landed gentry in England to describe someone who was, in their view, vulgar or deceitful. Interestingly, the idiom says as much of the person being described as “hairy”, as it does of the speaker of the idiom. The Scottish author John Buchan’s Huntingtower (1922) illustrates this, where he wrote:

I can’t say I ever liked him, and I’ve once or twice had a row with him, for he used to bring his pals to shoot over Dalquharter and he didn’t quite play the game by me. But I know dashed little about him, for I’ve been a lot away. Bit hairy about the heels, of course

The phrase is also used by the English novelist Agatha Christie, as well as the critic Walter James Macqueen-Pope, who in Back Numbers (1954), described someone as, “a cad, a bounder, an outsider, hairy at the heel.” Putting it simply, a person who was ill-bred.

The idiom also appears as ‘hairy round the heels’, ‘hairy in the fetlocks’, ‘hairy-heeled’, or just simply ‘hairy’. It is not widely used today.

I’ve had several arguments with Iago and I don’t trust him at all. I think he’s a bit hairy at the heel.

Of all the characters in Harry Potter, I find Lucius Malfoy the most hairy at the heel. He’s always switching his loyalties, depending on who is in power.

Princess Jasmine never trusted her father’s advisor Jaffar. She always found him somewhat hairy at the heel.

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