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See also: redhanded



From red +‎ handed, likening to a murderer with their hands red with the victim's blood. The phrase to be taken with red hand originally meant "to be caught in the act". The use of red hand in this sense goes back to 15th-century Scotland and Scots law. Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) contains the first recorded use of taken red-handed for someone apprehended in the act of committing a crime. The expression subsequently became more common as caught red-handed.[1]


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red-handed (comparative more red-handed, superlative most red-handed)

  1. (idiomatic) Showing clear evidence of guilt; in the act of wrongdoing.
    • 1905 January 12, Baroness Orczy [i.e., Emma Orczy], The Scarlet Pimpernel, popular edition, London: Greening & Co., published 20 March 1912, →OCLC:
      Caught, red-handed, on the spot, in the very act of aiding and abetting the traitors against the Republic of France, the Englishman could claim no protection from his own country.
    • 1991 October, Edward L. Ayers, “Legacy of violence”, in American Heritage, volume 42, number 6, page 102:
      Another Southerner argued that "commerce has no social illusions" and that it would be commerce that would rid the region of "this historic, red-handed, deformed, and swaggering villain."
    • 2003 August, Pamela Paul, “Dear Reader, Get a Life.”, in Psychology Today, volume 36, number 4, page 56:
      Your husband is having sex with other women -- that's perfectly clear. Sometimes when cheaters are nabbed red-handed they react with anger, they "rage" in an attempt to make the person who caught' em feel like they did something wrong.
    • 2003, Julie Elizabeth Leto, Up to no good, Toronto, New York: Harlequin:
      Made sense she'd be nervous, right? Made sense that she'd jump like a red-handed pickpocket when her friend Danielle, whom she'd thought had zonked out the minute she'd buckled her seat belt ten minutes ago, threw out such an intimate topic of conversation.
  2. Deadly, bloody.
    • 2013, The San Francisco Calamity by Earthquake and Fire, →ISBN:
      The demon of fire followed close upon the heels of the unseen fiend of the earth's hidden caverns, and ran red-handed through the metropolis of the West, kindling a thousand unhurt buildings, while the horror-stricken people stood aghast in terror, as helpless to combat this new enemy as they were to check the ravages of the earthquake itself.
    • 2014, Christian Cameron, The Great King, →ISBN:
      I grew to manhood listening to Greeks and Persians plotting various plots in my master's house, and one night all the plots burst forth into ugly blossoms and bore the fruit of red-handed war, and the Greek cities of Ionia revolted against the Persian overlords.
    • 2014, Robert E. Howard, The Phoenix on the Sword, →ISBN:
      He sees in Conan a red-handed, rough-footed barbarian who came out of the north to plunder a civilized land.
  3. (informal) With hands that are red from blood.
    • 2008, Trevor Baxendale, Doctor Who: Wishing Well, →ISBN, page 67:
      The blisters had wept blood for a while, leaving him literally red-handed for the rest of the night.
    • 2014, Rosa Liksom, Compartment - Issue 6, →ISBN:
      A red-handed cleaning lady slopped a wet, ragged mop.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Almost always used with the verb catch.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Hendrickson (1997), “Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins”, in Facts on File, New York, pages 135–136, 138