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The Canine in Conversation
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an illustration of a dog being pulled on a leash with the word 'heel' printed above
figure 1  


heel. Follow along at the heels of someone.

bring to heel. Bring under discipline or control.

This is quite common, especially in headlines where short punchy words are preferred. A Reuter's headline on October 18, 2004 boasts “Iraq to Widen Arms Amnesty, Bring Falluja to Heel.”reference 1 It is not clear who is bringing whom to heel, or even whether the amnesty is intended to bring this about. Nonetheless, what is clear is that to bring to heel is to dominate, to bring under control.



1. Georgy, Michael. 2004. Iraq to Widen Arms Amnesty, Bring Falluja to Heel. Reuters. Accessed Oct 26 2004 from http:// /newsArticle.jhtml? type=topNews&story ID=6534264.

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a Thomas Nast cartoon of Boss Tweed, his head depicted as a money bag. spacer
figure 2

ward heeler. A political operative at the local or ward level who enforces party discipline, typically to maintain and extend political power. They may also enrich those in power, rather than serve the public good.

The term is sometimes misstated as ward “healer” because such operatives may also be in the business of dispensing petty patronage or providing constituent services. As William Safire notes, the term heeler is “derived from a dog that a master brings to heel.” He says it was first cited in 1876 “about a minor politician who slavishly followed his ward leader.”reference 2


2. Safire, William. 2005. The Governess. New York Times Magazine, Nov. 30, 38.
About the illustrations: Figure 1 is from the book Dog Etiquette, © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is a depiction of one of the most notorious ward heelers (though the term was not yet coined when he engaged in the activity), William Marcy “Boss” Tweed of the infamous Tamany Hall political machine of New York in the mid nineteenth century. This image is taken from a political cartoon by Thomas Nast that appeared in Harpers Weekly. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

3. Ralston Purina Company. 1941. Dog Etiquette. St. Louis, Mo.: The Ralston Purina Co.

4. Nast, Thomas. 1871. The “Brains” The Boss. “Well, What Are You Going to Do About It?” Harper's Weekly, Oct 21.
see also: play dead; fetch; on a short leash; dog (follow); bird dog Last updated: July 5, 2008
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