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red herring

a smoked herring.
something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.
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.
any similar tentative financial prospectus, as one concerning a pending or proposed sale of cooperative or condominium apartments.
Origin of red herring
late Middle English
1375-1425; late Middle English Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2016.
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Examples from the Web for red-herring
Historical Examples
  • Mother says fishes comes from hard roes, so I chuck'd in the roe of a red-herring last week, but I doesn't catch any fish yet.

  • The man asked for a red-herring, which was forthwith given to him.

    Curiosities of Medical Experience J. G. (John Gideon) Millingen
  • Ginger in turn unfolded from its manifold wrappings a red-herring.

    Adventures of Bindle Herbert George Jenkins
  • After that the Rabbi was what the congregation called Remorse; also red-herring.

    The King of Schnorrers Israel Zangwill
  • "It is what they call a herring, a red-herring, my lady," responded Wilton.

    Adventures of Bindle Herbert George Jenkins
  • Yes,” replied his master, fixing his little grey eye sternly on him, “the red-herring.

    Snarley-yow Frederick Marryat
  • The reason why Snarleyyow did not die was simply this, that he did not eat the red-herring.

    Snarley-yow Frederick Marryat
  • He then brought out his bag, set up his supporters, fixed it close to the hatch, and put the red-herring inside of it.

    Snarley-yow Frederick Marryat
  • But Snarleyyow had not forgotten the red-herring; so in revenge he first bit Smallbones in the thigh, and then obeyed his master.

    Snarley-yow Frederick Marryat
  • The next morning Vanslyperken did not fail to order the red-herring for his breakfast, but took good care not to eat it.

    Snarley-yow Frederick Marryat
British Dictionary definitions for red-herring

red herring

anything that diverts attention from a topic or line of inquiry
a herring cured by salting and smoking
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for red-herring

red herring


"smoked herring" early 15c. (they turn red when cured), as opposed to white herring "fresh herring." Supposedly used by fugitives to put bloodhounds off their scent (1680s), hence metaphoric sense (1864) of "something used to divert attention from the basic issue;" earlier simply "a false lead":

Though I have not the honour of being one of those sagacious country gentlemen, who have so long vociferated for the American war, who have so long run on the red-herring scent of American taxation before they found out there was no game on foot; (etc.) [Parliamentary speech dated March 20, 1782, reprinted in "Beauties of the British Senate," London, 1786]

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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red-herring in Culture

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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Slang definitions & phrases for red-herring

red herring

noun phrase

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]

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with red-herring

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® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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