red herring

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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