- something irrelevant that distracts you from something important
- a clue meant to mislead you
- Literal meaning: A small, smoked silvery fish, which is turned red and dry by the smoke.
- The new law is just a red herring meant to draw our attention away from the issues regarding education.
- The new coffee cart is a red herring. They are hoping we forget about all of the overtime that we have to work.
- The author introduced a red herring into the plot to keep you guessing.
- Recent speech of the Prime Minister is mere a red herring – he actually tried to mislead the whole nation.
- I have come to know that the tall story she told me, was a red herring in reality.
In order to preserve herring (a fish) in times before refrigeration, they were salted. The process would turn them red. They would thus be available to even the poor to use in the training of hounds. The practice was first introduced in 1697 by Gerland Langbaine. It was said to be a good substitute for a dead fox or cat when training horses to follow a hunting party. The book was mistranslated and a red herring was thought to be used in the training of dogs.
The figurative use of the phrase is attributed to an article published on 14 February 1807 by William Cobbett.
“It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone.”
However, it was used once before that in a Parliamentary session on March 20, 1782.