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Caught Red Handed -- Derivation/Meaning?

Posted by Daniel Cohen on June 01, 2000

In Reply to: Caught Red Handed -- Derivation/Meaning? posted by Josje Andmore on June 01, 2000

: Please help me to understand the origins of this cliche... a colleague wants to know if it refers to being caught with blood on your hands (like the guilt associated with the smoking gun cliche) or whether it has some association with native american/idigenous peoples slurs. Thanks, Josje.

Don't worry. As far as I know, the phrase has no association with racial slurs.

Your colleague is right. The "red" in "red-handed" refers to a murderer who still had the blood of his victim on his hands. The phrase dates back as far as the 15th century, and since the 18th century, it came to describe any criminal caught in the act, or with irrefutable evidence of guilt.