Posted by Barney on January 15, 2001
In Reply to: Re: Caught red-handed posted by ESC on January 15, 2001
: : : the school have asked my daughter to find the origin of the phrase ' caught red-handed ' please can you help?
: CAUGHT RED-HANDED - "'To be taken with red hand' in ancient times was to be caught in the act, like a murderer, 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. Scott's 'Ivanhoe' has the first recorded use of 'taken red-handed' for someone apprehended in the act of committing a crime. Not long after, the expression became more common as 'caught red-handed.'" From "Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins" by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997), Page 135-136.
There are those who speculate that the phrase 'caught red-handed' is of even great antiquity and predates the Christian era. It's said to derive from the practise of the people of the Indus valley - 800 to 900 BC - whose custom was to place a thief's hand on a red hot axe head to determine his guilt or innocence.