red herring


Definition of red herring 

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

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

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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

Whether the network indeed ended up doing that, or if that was a cheeky red herring, is another story entirely. Devon Elizabeth, Teen Vogue, "The Final Season of "Game of Thrones" Will Debut in Early 2019," 25 July 2018 Criticizing somebody for being rude while they are being harassed and threatened is a poor prioritization and a red herring. Shannon Liao, The Verge, "Two Riot Games employees depart after defending a women-only PAX West event to League players," 7 Sep. 2018 The facts: Trump’s focus on a DNC server may or may not be a red herring. Richard Lardner, The Seattle Times, "Fact check: Trump, Putin and their Hall of Mirrors," 17 July 2018 Sanchez casually claims Wurtenberg was working undercover for Swiss intelligence in Croatia: a sensational plot twist if true, a silly red herring if not. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Chris the Swiss': Film Review | Cannes 2018," 22 May 2018 More: Sarah Huckabee Sanders visits the Red Hen, and Lexington, Virginia, reels in the aftermath More: OnPolitics Today: Is Red Hen more than a red herring? Fredreka Schouten, USA TODAY, "President Trump uses Sarah Huckabee Sanders restaurant incident to raise campaign cash," 26 June 2018 But then there’s a second mystery, concealed by a few red herrings in the first two sections of the film. Josephine Livingstone, The New Republic, "Three Identical Men and a Mystery," 5 July 2018 The film unleashes cascades of anger and grief, and proves in the process that a tree can be a red herring. Joe Morgenstern, WSJ, "‘Under the Tree’ Review: Neighbors at War," 5 July 2018 Metzman supposes with abandon, goes in for a few red herrings, and doesn’t shy away from financial forensics. Beth Kephart,, "Frances Metzman's 'Cha-Cha Babes of Pelican Bay': The rules of dancing, life, and rocking thongs in a retirement village," 6 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'red herring.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of red herring

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

7 Dec 2018

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Time Traveler for red herring

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

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More Definitions for red herring

red herring


Financial Definition of red herring

What It Is

A red herring is a registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) by a company that intends to make a public equity offering. The red herring is a rough draft of the company's prospectus and includes a description of the company's business, financial condition, strategy, management, litigation and risk factors.

How It Works

A red herring receives its name from the prominent disclosure statement in red letters stating that the company is not attempting to sell its securities prior to the SEC's approval.

Information within a red herring changes either because the SEC requires it or the issuer chooses to alter or add to the existing disclosure. After the SEC approves the document, the red herring becomes the final prospectus and can be used to solicit orders from investors.The definition of red herring on InvestingAnswers

Why It Matters

Underwriters often use red herrings to gauge interest in their offerings. They are often the first look investors get at a new issuer.

Source: Investing Answers

red herring


English Language Learners Definition of red herring

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

red herring

red her·​ring | \ˌred-ˈher-iŋ\

Legal Definition of red herring 

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

History and Etymology for red herring

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

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