- while committing a crime or doing some wrong
- in an undeniably incriminating or compromising situation
Origin of red-handedfrom the image of the hands covered with a victim's blood
Origin of red-handedEarlier red-hand with the hands red (from blood)
- Alternative spelling of red-handed.
(comparative more red-handed, superlative most red-handed)
- With clear evidence of guilt.
- Almost always used with the verb to catch.
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.