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In argument, something designed to divert an opponent's attention from the central issue. If a herring is dragged across a trail that hounds are following, it throws them off the scent.
Something used to divert attention from the real issue or matter: All this talk of deficits is just a red herring
[1884+; fr the use of a dead red herring to confuse or test the scent of hunting dogs, found by 1686]