Dead to rights

Dead to rights is an idiom that has been in use at least since the mid-1800s.  An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom dead to rights, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

Dead to rights means having overwhelming evidence of someone’s guilt, having irrefutable proof that someone is responsible for something. The idiom dead to rights came into use before the 1850s in the United States. Specifically, it has been traced to the criminal community in New York City. Dead to rights is an example of the use of the word dead to describe something that is certain or unequivocal, seen in phrases such as dead certain, dead broke, dead sure, dead serious, dead drunk. The latter half of the idiom, to rights, means in a proper manner. The idiom is usually rendered with the word have, as in have someone dead to rights. Related phrases are has someone dead to rights, had someone dead to rights.


When all was said and done, cynicism prevailed and Lesnar—who had WWE Universal champion Seth Rollins dead to rights—screamed “Friday!” in reference to the forthcoming Super ShowDown pay-per-view in Saudi Arabia.  (Forbes Magazine)

“Because he knows that after over two decades of sexually abusing underage girls, we blew this wide open and have him and his enablers dead to rights.” (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Trump’s lawyers have formed joint defense agreements with Jerome Corsi, who Mueller appears to have dead to rights on both perjury and attempts to collude with Wikileaks.  (New York Magazine)

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