To be taken with red hand in ancient times was to be caught in the act, like a murderer with his hands red with his victim's blood. The use of red hand in this sense goes back to 15th-century Scotland and Scottish 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.
- Having clear evidence of guilt.
1991 October, Edward L. Ayers, “Legacy of violence”, 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.”, 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:
- 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.
- Deadly, bloody.
2013, The San Francisco Calamity by Earthquake and Fire, ISBN 1782872515:
- 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 1409114163:
- 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 163355354X:
- He sees in Conan a red-handed, rough-footed barbarian who came out of the north to plunder a civilized land.
- With hands that are red.
- Almost always used with the verb catch.
- ^ Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997), pp. 135-136 and 138.