November 26, 2012
red herring (noun)
\RED-HAIR-ing\ Hear it!
What does it mean?
: something intended to distract attention from the real issue
How do you use it?
Inspector Quinnick was certain that the glove at the crime scene was a red herring, and she continued her investigation of the real thief.
Are you a word wiz?

Only one of the answers below is true -- the others are red herrings intended to distract you. Which answer do you think correctly explains how "red herring" came to mean "something used to distract attention from an important fact or issue"?

There is something fishy about all the answers except C. The original "red herrings" were real fish. They were reddish or coppery-brown because they had been smoked and salted to keep them from spoiling. Such smoked fish have a very strong odor. In the 1600s, hunters would drag smelly red herrings along the ground where they were training their dogs. The fish smell was a distraction; the hunter wanted the dog to ignore it and focus on the scent of the animal being tracked. Over time, English speakers started using the term "red herring" for anything intended to distract someone.
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