red herring


: a herring cured by salting and slow smoking to a dark brown color
[from the practice of drawing a red herring across a trail to confuse hunting dogs] : something that distracts attention from the real issue

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.

Examples of red herring in a Sentence

The argument is a red herring. It actually has nothing to do with the issue. The plot of the mystery was full of red herrings.
Recent Examples on the Web Related Articles What’s behind the anti-Biden ‘wildfire’ among TikTok influencers Opinion: Data privacy was a red herring. Tiffany Donnelly, The Mercury News, 5 June 2024 Perhaps this is itself a tribute to the kind of true crime podcast Gilbert has come to specialize in, where those red herrings have to do a lot of the work. Alan Sepinwall, Rolling Stone, 9 May 2024 After all, a red herring is, by definition, a distraction—so nothing is certain until Tay says so. Stephanie McNeal, Glamour, 5 Feb. 2024 Set in dreary Copenhagen with a cast of characters who all could be suspects, there are red herrings galore. Andrea Duncan-Mao, Vulture, 28 Jan. 2024 See all Example Sentences for red herring 

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'red herring.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History

First Known Use

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of red herring was in the 15th century


Dictionary Entries Near red herring

Cite this Entry

“Red herring.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Jun. 2024.

Kids Definition

red herring

: something intended to distract attention from the real problem

Legal Definition

red herring

red her·​ring
: a preliminary prospectus (as for the sale of securities) that is not yet approved by the appropriate body (as the Securities and Exchange Commission)

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

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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