roundheeled / round-heeled

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roundheeled / round-heeled

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sun Jan 11, 2009 8:09 am

In last Sunday’s New York Times I read the following:
<2009 “Today we are going to deal with the media coverage of profanities, expletives, vulgarisms, obscenities, execrations, epithets and imprecations, nouns often lumped together by the Bluenose Generation as coarseness, crudeness, bawdiness, scatology or swearing. But roundheeled readers should stop smacking their lips and rubbing their hands because the deliberately shocking subject can be treated with decorum, in plain words, without the titillating examples of “dirty words”—New York Times, On Language by William Safire, 4 January>
Never heard the adjective ROUNDHEELED, but from the context, I’ll take a reasonable guess and then see how it squares with the dictionaries.

The ROUNDHEELED in “Roundheeled readers should stop smacking their lips” perhaps means something on the order of ‘vulgar-minded,’ ‘crude,’ ‘indecent’ (but not necessarily salacious and lascivious, since not just about sex). On the other hand, just ‘eager’ would also fit. But what could ‘roundheeled’ have to do with either guess? Got me! So first a check of the standard dictionaries:

Here’s a sampling of noun meanings, which seems like it should bear some resemblance to the adjective:

ROUNDHEELS noun [1940] (used with a singular verb) Slang.: A prostitute. [1940–45; ‘round’ + ‘heel’] (Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary)

[[“Prostitute readers”? No cigar, but we do have sex involved and a confirmation that it is somehow related to the ‘round heel’ of a shoe.]]

ROUNDHEEL noun Slang: A woman who yields readily to sexual intercourse also roundheels and the related form roundheeled [Etymology: Originally used of an easily beaten prizefighter]. (Webster’s New World Dictionary)

[[Some progress is being made. We have the compliant woman ‘prostitute’ angle, even though it doesn’t seem to fit in my above quote. She falls backwards into bed easily as a poor boxer would, whose rounded heels would help contribute to his easy backward tumble – I like it!]]

ROUNDHEEL noun: A pushover. <a luscious roundheel with a heart of gold —J. T. Latouche> (Webster’s New World College Dictionary) [[A person with rounded heels would be easy to push over. More progress – a ‘pushover’ generalizes beyond ‘prostitute,’ but unfortunately that still isn’t a fit for my above quote. “Pushover readers” doesn’t seem to work.]]


ROUND HEELS noun (chiefly U.S. slang): Rounded heels that allow the wearer to rock backwards easily; usually transferred and figurative implying the inability to remain upright, as in an incompetent boxer or sexually compliant woman; hence ROUND-HEELED adjective; round-heeler noun.

The following refer to the lousy boxer and the easy woman:
<1926 “You want people to say you got round heels. Why don't you go on the streets and be done with it?”—Love ‘Em & Leave ‘Em by Abbott & Weaver, III. page 109>

<1926 “A push-over, which means a fighter with round heels along cauliflower alley, was, by the same token, a dame on rockers.”—Variety, 28 December, page 7/4>

<1927 “Others contend that ‘a round-heeler’ was applied to street-walkers many years ago.”—Vanity Fair (New York), November, page 67/2>

<1929 “Myra Busch is a push-over! . . . She's got round heels!”—I Thought of Daisy by E. Wilson, i. page 16>

<1944 “You'd think . .. I'd . . ..pick me a change in types at least. But little roundheels over there ain't even that.”—Lady in the Lakd R. Chandler, v. page 35>

<1947 “Women of all sorts tumble for him like so many roundheeled dominoes, . . .”—Time Magazine, 21 July>

<1957 “I know I'm just a broad, Mike. I'm a round-heeled babe.”—Please Don’t Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr, page 118>

<1963 “Little Miss Roundheels . . . specialized in gentlemen who were otherwise committed.”—Murder’s Little Helper (1964) by ‘G. Bagby,’ viii. page 84>

<1975 “Her famous round heels did not seem to rule out a stern morality on other counts.”—The Glory of the Hummingbird by P. De Vries, xiii. page 192>

<1975 “You said that as if I'm some round-heeled little chippie who dragged you to the floor.”— D'Artagnan Signature (1976) by R. Rostand, xiv. page 83>

<2000 “Were you born yesterday? A roundheeled gal! You just tipped her over, and she fell into bed with anybody!'”—New York Times, 24 December>

<2008 “Unbeknownst to the once-roundheeled Donna, Sophie has invited three men to the wedding who might or might not be her birth father, . . .”—Washington Post, 18 July>
(quotes form Oxford English Dictionary and archived sources)

Well, the standard dictionaries don't seem to have yielded a definition consistent with my above quote, so a look at the slang dictionaries may be in order:

ROUNDHEELS (1926): Derogatory, mainly U.S.; from the notion of being unsteady on the feet, and hence readily agreeing to lie down for sexual intercourse. (Oxford Dictionary of Slang by John Ayto) [[Rats! Same old story. Sex, sex, sex. I’m losing hope.]]

ROUND-HEELS: One who is easily pushed over, as an incompetent pugilist or, the more usual context, a compliant woman. . . . Round Heels has been dated to 1926 in the sexual sense; round-heeler and round-heeled have also been sighted. The image is basically the same as the older light-heeled (from at least the 16th century), loose-heeled, and short-heeled. For example, in A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue (1796), Captain Francis Grose defined a light-heeled wench as “one who is apt, by the flying up of her heels, to fall flat on her back, a willing wench.” (Even better, according to Grose, was the thorough good-natured wench, i.e., “One who being asked to sit down, will lie down.”) [[Somehow I don’t visualize this one making it into The Connoisseur's Concise Compendium of Contemporary Political Correctness!]] (Wicked Words by Hugh Rawson) ___________________________________

It might be time for Cassell’s:


ROUND HEEL [noun]: (also ROUNDHEELS, ROUNDHEELER: 1) [1920s and still in use] (U.S.): An inferior prizefighter; also figurative use. 2) [1920s and still in use]: A promiscuous woman. . . . [both of them fall over easily; the image is pivoting on the rounded heel]

ROUNDHEELED [[also ROUND-HEELED]] adjective [1920s and still in use]: 1) Easily defeated. 2) Of a woman or gay man, promiscuous [from roundheel noun]

Hmm! No help there. Things are looking grim, but I’m not easily defeated (not ‘roundheeled’). I next checked the following sources, which unfortunately provided essentially the same results as above:

A Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English by Eric Partridge, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Slang and Euphemism by R. A. Spears, How Not to Say What You Mean by R. W. Holder, Dictionary of American Slang by Wentworth & Flexner, and New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English.

Looking hopeless. (>:) But, as luck would have it, one of the last places I checked rang a bell. (<:)


ROUNDHEEL or ROUNDHEELS noun 1) [by 1920] An inferior prizefighter; = palooka [[Ah, yes. The Joe Palooka comic strip and then there was that good old Joe Palooka bubble gum I loved so well]]. 2) A promiscuous woman’ = punchboard [because such persons readily toppled over backwards].

ROUNDHEELED [[also ROUND-HEELED]] adjective by 1980: Willing; complaisant; easily induced; like a ‘roundheel.’ The chronically roundheeled U.S. Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary [of the huge Japanese real estate and industrial investments]Time Magazine. [[Note: The bracketed portion of the this quote appears in Chapman, but does not appear in the source, the February 24, 1992, Time Magazine review of Michael Crichton’s novel Rising Sun.

Yes!! Back to check the original quote, “But roundheeled readers should stop smacking their lips . . .”

Hmm! “But willing / easily induced (or seduced) / complaisant readers should stop smacking their lips . . .”

I looked up complaisant, whose exact meaning I couldn’t recall:

COMPLAISANT adjective: Exhibiting a desire or willingness to please or serve others, to consent to their wishes, or to lend oneself compliantly to their purposes; obliging, agreeable, compliant.

Well, that was a merry chase and I would say that Chapman’s definition does the trick. In retrospect, it seems that the meaning was there just below the surface all the time. The idea of an ‘easy woman’ could be transferred to the figurative meaning of ‘easily induced or seduced or persuaded,’ a willingness to please. Following the ‘boxer’ path of ‘easily defeated’ (see Cassell’s, . . . ) threw me off the scent, and the standard and slang dictionaries were not all that helpful with the required sense of the word – a bit surprising for a usage which isn’t exactly new and not all that uncommon (see quotes below). But come to think of it, if ‘pushover' were an adjective, that wouldn't have been a bad fit.

The following are from archived sources and except for the first quote seem to be consistent with the Chapman definition:
<1960 “A Round-Heeled Straw Man: Candidate Kennedy [[John F.]] says he would see to it, if he were elected, that we achieved a nuclear retaliatory power second to none. He implies that we do not have this power now. We think Mr. Kennedy is in error.”—Los Angeles Times, 22 September, page B4> [[this one could mean easily defeated – a pushover. Maybe.]]

<1970 “We do have many round-heeled folk whose minds are easily seduced, and we have
polite old- fashioned words for them: they are credulous or they are gullible or they are superstitious.”—Now Don't Try to Reason with Me: Essays and Ironies for a Credulous Age by W. C. Booth,‎ page 66>

<1975 “Teng in his toast sternly warned the Americans against being roundheeled with the Soviets on detente, which the Chinese regard as naive and a self-defeating attempt to appease imperialist Moscow.”—Time Magazine, 15 December>

<1984 “For fifty years the Democratic Party engaged in heavy deficit spending and always managed to turn up round-heeled economists to swear it was enlightened policy to spend ourselves into a hole.”—National Review, 4 May>

<1987 “As the Senate debates this, some roundheeled handmaidens for permissivism will claim that the prepositional phrase is being used adverbially . . .”—On Language by William Safire in New York Times, in 27 December>

<1992 “The Washington press corps in particular has been roundheeled for its buddy ‘Pat,’ [[Buchanan]] newspaper columnist, star and host of TV talk shows - at least when he is not trashing the press on behalf of some conservative president.”—Washington Post, 26 February>

<1998 “The F.B.I. admitted wrongdoing in being so complaisant, apologized and said it would never again ship files over without proper paperwork. . . . Who gave this former bar bouncer the names of the targets of White House curiosity -- names that he then ordered up from a roundheeled F.B.I.?”—New York Times, 23 July>

<2000 “I like Al Gore's assertive stand on NATO expansion, but I much prefer George W. Bush on missile defense. Gore has been naive on Russia, but Bush might be even more roundheeled on China.”—New York Times, 6 November>

<2002 “With the round-heeled Michael Powell steering the Federal Communications Commission toward terminal fecklessness; with the redoubtable Joel Klein succeeded at Justice's antitrust division by an assortment of wimps; . . the checks and balances made possible by diverse competition are being eradicated.”—The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin), 8 March>

<2003 “Now it's up to Congress to overturn the ruling by the roundheeled FCC.”—Oakland Tribune, 18 June>

<2008 “Journalists consider themselves crusty, unsentimental creatures . . . Actually, they are round-heeled romantics, . . . pushovers for a new swain [[Barack Obama]] . . .”—Newsweek, 16 June>
Ken G – January 10, 2009

Re: roundheeled / round-heeled

Post by JerrySmile » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:38 am

Nice ride, Ken.

Chapman's got it, indeed.

Re: roundheeled / round-heeled

Post by Erik_Kowal » Sun Jan 11, 2009 10:56 am

On reading Chapman's homework, I am inclined to agree.
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