On catching oneself red-handed


Literally: red – hand – empty – fist

Alternately: Doing something on one’s own, without receiving (and often without asking for) help from anybody. Alternately, facing an enemy without any weapons but one’s fists.

Notes: This is a repetition-type yojijukugo, in which 赤手 (in contrast to the English-language idiom) refers to a bare or empty hand, and 空拳 means that you’ve got nothing in your hand, just making a fist. One variant replaces the 赤 with another 空, while another replaces it with 徒 (to), which can also be used to mean “empty.” The latter variant seems to specifically emphasize a lack of capital when starting a business venture.

This phrase comes from the famous Journey to the West (西遊記, Japanese Saiyuuki), part II. I’m a little surprised to find that this is the first time we’ve had something on the site from that source, given its widespread influence: the closest we’ve come is, essentially, its nonfictional counterpart.

Donnie Yen with Fist

A lot of karate and kung fu in the image search results. Pictured: Donnie Yen in Ip Man 3.

About Confanity

I love the written word more than anything else I've had the chance to work with. I'm back in the States from Japan for grad school, but still studying Japanese with the hope of becoming a translator -- or writer, or even teacher -- as long as it's something language-related.
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