What Does Achilles’ Heel Mean?

Achilles’ Heel Meaning

Definition: A weakness or point of vulnerability, despite overall strength.

Someone’s Achilles’ heel is the part of the person that can be most easily wounded, either physically or emotionally. It often isn’t an obvious or recognized place to be hurt, but it is enough to cause damage.

In a competition, competitors often look for opponents’ Achilles’ heel as a way to defeat them.

Origin of Achilles’ Heel

Meaning of achilles heelThe concept of an Achilles’ heel was born in Greek mythology. When the child Achilles was born, it was foretold that he would die an early death.

Distraught, his mother took him to the magical River Styx, whose water promised a coat of invulnerability, and dipped him in by his heel. Because her thumb and forefinger were clasped around his heel, that one part of his body was never coated by the water’s shield and never received protection.

Achilles grew up to be a great warrior who survived many battles. No one could defeat him until a poisonous arrow was shot into his unprotected heel. He died shortly after.

The moral was that no matter how strong we might be, no one is invincible. The human condition necessitates a weak point in each of us.

It wasn’t used as an expression of vulnerability, however, until the early 1800s, with implied use by Samuel Taylor Coleridge when he called Ireland “that vulnerable heel of the British Achilles!”

Today, we call the prominent tendon of the calf the tendo achilleus.

Example of Achilles’ Heel

Define achilles heelIn the modern day, the usage has expanded to include references to qualities other than physical ones that can cause someone to fail. For example, someone trying to lose weight might refer to ice cream as his or her Achilles’ heel, meaning that the temptation of ice cream is a weak point, as it creates the failure to lose weight.

Businesses and systems may also possess an Achilles’ heel, as they too can be attacked and brought to failure if part of their structure is weak or unprotected. “The food supply,” for example, “proved to be the nation’s Achilles’ heel in its defense against terrorist attacks.”

More Examples

  • Democrats see Medicare fight as Donald Trump’s Achilles’ heel –Huffington Post
  • When faced with the vaccine, healthy Tau proteins undergo structural changes that form a new region, which is then attacked by the antibody. Further, this problem region exists in diseased Tau early on, but as the researchers explain, it’s effectively the ‘Achilles’ heel’ of the protein. –The Science Explorer

Summary

An Achilles’ heel is a small, unexpected problem or weakness in an otherwise strong person or a system that can result in injury or failure.