To be caught red handed applies to anything from the police catching a crook to a kid getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar. If a person were caught for a crime why would their hands be red from it? Like any good sleuth trying to solve a crime, let’s uncover the reason criminals are said to be caught “red handed”
Originating in Scotland in the 15th century “to be caught red handed” meant exactly what it implied: to be caught with blood still on your hands after a crime. This saying was particularly applicable to foolish criminals who failed to clean up properly.
The saying grew in popularity from those early Scottish court cases and found its way into popular literature; when the saying morphed from its original “red hand” to “red handed” in the 19th Century work Ivanhoe, written by Sir Walter Scott and again in 1857’s Guy Livingstone, written by George Alfred Lawrence. Through time the harsh crime associated with being caught “red handed” has taken on a less ominous tone and applies to anyone caught doing something they shouldn’t.