Caught red-handed

In looking for the origins of the phrase “caught red handed” (depressingly boring–it was, as I suspected, the low-tech equivalent of powder burns), I came across the origins of the “Red Hand” symbol of Ulster.

According to the most unlikely story and therefore the best one,* there was a boat race to settle who would rule Ulster: the first to touch the opposite shore would be King. The guy who wanted it most won by cutting off one of his hands and throwing it.

We’ve been told that Rahm Emanuel lost most of his middle finger in a “swimming accident.” Now, it seems to me, we know the truth.

*Wikipedia, quite uncharitably, says that another story relating a fight between two giants is particularly likely to be less than accurate, instead the product of “retrospective fabrications.” In this context we should remember that during most of human history, Napoleon would have counted as tall.

Update: An earlier version of the post referred to a living person of below-average height instead of to Napoleon. (Mark alertly changed it.) As someone who’s significantly below the average male height myself, and who used to be way below as a kid, I guess I tend to think of references to short people as self-deprecating rather than other-insulting. But not everyone would take it that way, especially those who don’t know my height. So: sorry.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.