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 Anthony Davis, one of the greatest players in the world but frequently injured, turned out to be one of those monsters that causes a lot of havoc early in the film but gets knocked out before the finale, a red herring of sorts. Bill Goodykoontz, The Arizona Republic, 5 June 2021 His introduction to the world as a rapper was something of a red herring. Jeff Ihaza, Rolling Stone, 30 Apr. 2021 Perhaps, the Deacon is just one of the good guys, a red herring to keep us guessing. Shannon Carlin,, 3 May 2021 And in the pre-IPO document, called the draft red herring prospectus (DRHP), the company warned this trend might continue. Ananya Bhattacharya, Quartz, 29 Apr. 2021 As far as the Best Director race, Vinterberg, as befits a Dane, is probably a red herring. Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, 20 Apr. 2021 LeCun was dismissive, describing the whole issue as a red herring. Jeremy Kahn, Fortune, 9 Mar. 2021 The State’s Attorney’s Office calls the claim a red herring, because that was not part of their eventual case for Johnson’s innocence. Justin Fenton,, 16 Mar. 2021 Some Republicans say the disclosure issue is a red herring for Democratic frustration that conservatives frequently carry the day before the Supreme Court, which is dominated by appointees of GOP presidents. Jess Bravin, WSJ, 6 Mar. 2021

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

14 Jun 2021

Cite this Entry

“Red herring.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 22 Jun. 2021.

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More Definitions for red herring

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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