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

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 But Greif’s initial praise is more than a red herring. Nicole Acheampong, The Atlantic, 8 July 2022 Here, Cruz and others resort to a red herring to deflect attention from their main concern; abortions of any kind and at any time during a pregnancy. Joshua Cohen, Forbes, 2 June 2022 Even Mary’s backstory is left as a tantalizing red herring. Clea Simon,, 26 May 2022 Doctors and reproductive rights advocates will tell you the issue of Down syndrome is a red herring. Shirley Leung,, 18 July 2022 Twitter, in its lawsuit, says the spam/bot issue is a red herring and that Musk is backing out because the stock market decline has made the deal more expensive for him personally. Todd Spangler, Variety, 14 July 2022 His focus may be a red herring, as there’s been no violence thus far against Ohio centers. cleveland, 28 June 2022 What if voters were faced with an eleventh-hour red herring, another disaster like the James Comey letter? Kaitlyn Tiffany, The Atlantic, 28 Apr. 2022 But Sussmann and the researchers called this a red herring. Marshall Cohen, CNN, 16 Feb. 2022 See More

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.

First Known Use of red herring

15th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Learn More About red herring

Time Traveler for red herring

Time Traveler

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

See more words from the same century

Listen to Our Podcast About red herring

Dictionary Entries Near red herring

red hematite

red herring

red hickory

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for red herring

Last Updated

1 Aug 2022

Cite this Entry

“Red herring.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 13 Aug. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

More Definitions for red herring

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Odd Habits and Quirks

  • image1926873504
  • Which of the following best describes an easily irritated person?
Name That Thing

Test your visual vocabulary with our 10-question challenge!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!