red herring

noun
1.
a smoked herring.
2.
something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.
3.
Also called red-herring prospectus. Finance. a tentative prospectus circulated by the underwriters of a new issue of stocks or bonds that is pending approval by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: so called because the front cover of such a prospectus must carry a special notice printed in red.
4.
any similar tentative financial prospectus, as one concerning a pending or proposed sale of cooperative or condominium apartments.

Origin:
1375–1425; late Middle English

Dictionary.com Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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Collins
World English Dictionary
red herring
 
n
1.  anything that diverts attention from a topic or line of inquiry
2.  a herring cured by salting and smoking

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Etymonline
Word Origin & History

red herring
"smoked herring" early 15c. (they turn red when cured). Supposedly used by fugitives to put bloodhounds off the scent (1680s), hence metaphoric sense (1884) of "something used to divert attention from the basic issue."
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

red herring definition


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.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Idioms & Phrases

red herring

Something that draws attention away from the central issue, as in Talking about the new plant is a red herring to keep us from learning about downsizing plans. The herring in this expression is red and strong-smelling from being preserved by smoking. The idiom alludes to dragging a smoked herring across a trail to cover up the scent and throw off tracking dogs. [Late 1800s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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Example sentences
That's a red herring argument, and not at all the point.
Government sources say that it is a bit of a red herring to draw a contrast
  between binding and consultative votes.
Arguing over some journalist's choice of headline is a bizarre and possibly
  destructive red herring.
All else is irrelevant and a red herring at the level of discussion presented
  by the writer.
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