an exercise in miscellany

Caught Red-Handed

In words & phrases on August 6, 2011 at 7:17 am

The Red Hand has long been a heraldic and cultural symbol of the northern Irish province of Ulster. One of the many myths as to its origin is the tale of how, in a boat race in which the first to touch the shore of Ulster was to become the province’s ruler, one contestant guaranteed his win by cutting off his hand and throwing it to the shore ahead of his rivals. The potency of the symbol remains and is used in the Ulster flag, and as recently as the 1970s a group of Ulster loyalist paramilitaries named themselves the Red Hand Commandos.Red-handed doesn’t have a mythical origin however – it is a straightforward allusion to having blood on one’s hands after the execution of a murder or a poaching session. The term originates, not from Northern Ireland, but from a country not so far from there, socially and geographically, i.e. Scotland. An earlier form of ‘red-handed’, simply ‘red hand’, dates back to a usage in the Scottish Acts of Parliament of James I, 1432.

via Caught red-handed.

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