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Posts Tagged ‘redhanded’


Posted by Admin on July 27, 2010

This expression means an individual has been caught in the act of committing a crime. Its original meaning is to be caught after having stabbed someone, where the perpetrator still has blood on his or her hands.

“Red-handed” dates back to the Scottish Acts of Parliament of James I in 1432 and is referred to at that time as “red-hand.”   “Red-hand” appears in print many times in Scottish legal proceedings from that point on. 

Sir George Mackenzie’s essay entitled A Discourse Upon The Laws and Customs of Scotland in Matters Criminal which was published in 1674 states:

If he be not taken red-hand, the sheriff cannot proceed against him.”

In Sir Walter Scott’s novel Ivanhoe published in 1819, the shift from “red-hand” to “red-handed” was made:

I did but tie one fellow, who was taken redhanded and in the fact, to the horns of a wild stag.”

You may want to remember this word the next time you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

Posted in Idioms from the 15th Century, Idioms from the 17th Century | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »