Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Posts Tagged ‘dead to rights’

Dead Right

Posted by Admin on August 17, 2010

The phrase “dead right” and “dead to rights” are twin phrases in that they are nearly identical in use and meaning. 

The word dead was used from the 16th century on to mean “utter, absolute, quite.”   The “to rights” part of the phrase has been used since the 14th century to mean “in a proper manner” and later to mean “in proper condition or order.”

The implication of the phrase “dead right” or “dead to rights” was that every detail required by the law to make an arrest had been satisfied, making the arrest clean and justifiable.  In other words, it was a “fair cop.”

The San Francisco newspaper, The City Argus, reported in an 1881 news story:  “A man attempted to get into Banker Sather’s cash box and was caught ‘dead to rights‘ and now languishes in the city Bastille.”

The phrase dead right was commonly used by the police as early as 1919 to mean an individual committing a crime had been caught red-handed, as in: “Come clean! We have got you dead right!

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century, Idioms from the 20th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Dead To Rights

Posted by Admin on July 26, 2010

Although the phrase “dead to rights” was first published in the Vocabulum or The Rogue’s Lexicon by George Matsell in 1859, the history of the phrase can be split in two to explain how the phrase came to be.

Dead” is a slang use of the word that means “absolutely and without doubt”  and dates back to the 16th century England.  The phrase “to rights” has been used since the 14th century in England to mean “in a proper manner” or “in proper condition or order.”

So when someone has been caught “dead to rights” what’s happened is that they’ve been caught red-handed in the act of committing a crime or making a mistake.

Posted in Idioms from the 14th Century, Idioms from the 16th Century, Idioms from the 19th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »