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red herring


Simple Definition of red herring

  • : something unimportant that is used to stop people from noticing or thinking about something important

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary

Full Definition of red herring

  1. 1 :  a herring cured by salting and slow smoking to a dark brown color

  2. 2 [from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs] :  something that distracts attention from the real issue

Examples of red herring in a sentence

  1. The argument is a red herring. It actually has nothing to do with the issue.

  2. The plot of the mystery was full of red herrings.

Did You Know?

Believe it or not, red herring has as much to do with hunting dogs as with brightly colored fish. Here's how: A herring is a soft-finned bony fish. People who like to eat herring have long preserved them by salting and slowly smoking them. That process makes a herring turn red or dark brown - and gives them a very strong smell. Dogs love to sniff such smelly treats, a fact that makes the fish a perfect diversion for anyone trying to distract hunting dogs from the trail of their quarry. The practice of using preserved fish to confuse hunting dogs led to the use of the term red herring for anything that diverts attention from the issue at hand.

15th Century

First Known Use of red herring

15th century

Law Dictionary

red herring

noun red her·ring \ˌred-ˈher-iŋ\

Legal Definition of red herring

  1. :  a preliminary prospectus (as for the sale of securities) that is not yet approved by the appropriate body (as the Securities and Exchange Commission)

Origin of red herring

red herring something that distracts attention from the main issue, diversion

Seen and Heard

What made you want to look up red herring? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


tending to dismiss important matters

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