- doing or about to do something illegal or wrong
- in the act of something dubious or bad
- doing something with clear evidence of wrongdoing or guilt
- committing or about to commit a crime
- They caught him red-handed with his fingerprints all over the murder weapon.
- She was caught red-handed by a security guard putting items in her pockets.
- My boyfriend caught me red-handed eating biscuits when I was on a diet.
- Jack was caught red-handed driving under the influence of drugs.
- Man caught red-handed peeping into women’s locker room of a gym.
- He wants to catch his friend red-handed while cheating on him.
- Thief caught red-handed carrying a jewellery box stolen from the victim’s house.
This phrase alludes to being caught with the victim’s blood on your hands either in the act of, or after a murder or poaching.
‘Red hand’ originated in Scotland in the 15th century. The first appearance in documentation is from the Scottish Acts of Parliament in 1432 in the time of King James I.
“That the offender be taken reid hand, may be persewed, and put to the knawledge of ane Assise, befoir the Barron or Landeslord of the land or ground, quhidder the offender be his tennent, unto quhom the wrang is done or not… And uthers not taken reid hand, to be alwaies persewed befoir the…”
It was used in various Scottish legal proceedings where the culprit was referred to as being caught with ‘red hand.’
It turned into the phrase we use today around the 19th century. An example by Sir Walter Scott in Ivanhoe:
“I did but tie one fellow, who was taken redhanded and in the fact, to the horns of a wild stag.”
Its use in Ivanhoe then helped spread it all over the English speaking world.