to nip at someone's heels

ekbatana

Senior Member
German Austria
I have one last phrase that I heard on Eurosports and whose meaning is not entirely clear to me. I believe the meaning of "to nip at someone's heels" on Eurosport was the same like in the first example, namely to close in on one's competitor. Given its primary meaning, does it also mean to chip away/gnaw at someone's reputation or market share like in references 2 and 3? Thanks a lot in advance!

1. Headliners take a star turn while emerging young talent nip at their heels, at New York's best-known comedy club.

2. It is this intellectual elitism that religious believers see when they glance behind them at those atheists who nip at their heels.

3. The Saints are unassuming Super Bowl winners. Minor scandals nip at their heels but the most succulent story to stick to the team has been Sean Payton’s affinity for fruit-flavored gum. “
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi again, ekbatana

    I think the best way of approaching this is to think of the literal meaning - imagine a puppy which is playfully biting someone's heels.

    From that you can get a variety of "flavours" for the figurative meaning, from "following closely" to "being annoying":).
     

    ekbatana

    Senior Member
    German Austria
    Thanks for answering a second question for me, Loob. I get a taste of what nipping at someone's heels in its literal meaning means pretty much every day. Canines are not the only creatures that have the nasty habit of nipping at people's heels but my cat does it to me pretty much every morning in the erronous belief that he gets his pretty paws on his food a bit sooner.
     

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Suppose a fast food giant in Hong Kong took a heavy hit following rumors that they had been using rat meat for their burgers. They lost a lot of customers and their grasp on the market. Their competitors apparently benefited from the unfortunate situation, as they had been seeing a huge uptick in customers since then.

    In this situation, where the giant was threatened by the fast rising competitors, is it okay to say "the competitors have really been nipping at the fast food giant's heel the past few years after the "rat burger" rumor broke out."
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    No.

    You have shown no action whatsoever on the part of the competitors.

    Just because a pack of wolves feed off a critter killed by a falling tree, you cannot say they are "nipping at the poor creature's heels.":)
     

    redgiant

    Senior Member
    Cantonese, Hong Kong
    Thank you, sdgraham~~ I agree that when the competitors are nipping at the fast food giant's heel, they have to be going after the giant with action.(e.g. regularly undercutting the giant's prices, spreading rumors, poach good cooks from it.)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    If you watch a dog catching a rabbit/hare, you will see that the dog tries to grasp its prey's hind leg. Likewise, cattle and sheep dogs herd by approaching quickly as if to bite the heel.
     
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