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 Others obsess over arcane questions of process and red herrings, to cloud the facts in the hopes that Americans get confused enough to throw up their hands in exhaustion., "Wednesday was an historic day. On that much, the president and the lawmakers who would vote to impeach him agree.," 19 Dec. 2019 In fact, the chief justice’s participation in presidential impeachment trials is quite possibly a red herring. Adam White, National Review, "The Senate’s Trial," 19 Dec. 2019 Easley takes a complex issue – seeking exoneration in a case that’s been adjudicated – and presents it clearly and entertainingly, while stocking his plot with enough red herring to keep readers guessing. oregonlive, "8 books to help you get into the spirit of the Halloween season," 20 Oct. 2019 As Justice Kagan’s dissent shows, these complaints are red herrings. Guy-uriel E. Charles, Time, "SCOTUS's Ruling on Gerrymandering Endangers US Democracy," 11 July 2019 The government hopes to rake in nearly Rs638 crore ($9.04 million) by selling 20 million shares (amounting to a 12.6% stake), each priced at between Rs315 and Rs320, according to the draft red herring prospectus (DRHP) (pdf). Sangeeta Tanwar, Quartz India, "IRCTC’s market debut will test investors’ faith in Modi government’s handling of the economy," 30 Sep. 2019 The quid pro quo, in my judgment, is a red herring. CBS News, "Transcript: Senator John Kennedy on "Face the Nation," November 10, 2019," 10 Nov. 2019 Our press seems increasingly helpless in the face of evidence-free red herrings aimed at its erogenous zones. Holman W. Jenkins, WSJ, "Suddenly, Bezos Is Media’s Hero," 12 Feb. 2019 Once preliminary research and on-camera interviews are completed, a factually accurate script rife with enough red herrings to sustain an hour-long mystery is written. Daniel Vaillancourt, Los Angeles Times, "‘Air Disasters’: Smithsonian Channel’s hit has a recipe of compelling stories," 30 Aug. 2019

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

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Last Updated

24 Jan 2020

Cite this Entry

“Red herring.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 27 January 2020.

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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

More from Merriam-Webster on red herring

Spanish Central: Translation of red herring

Comments on red herring

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


one that suddenly gains wealth or power

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