Red Herring Definition

A smoked herring.
Webster's New World
Something used to divert attention from the basic issue.
Webster's New World
A preliminary prospectus, subject to amendment, for an issue of securities.
Webster's New World
A topic that may or may not have general significance, factual or legal, but that is of absolutely no relevance to the question or matter at hand.
Webster's New World Law

A smoke-cured and salt-brined herring strong enough to turn the flesh red; a type of kipper.

"Up in the morning, and had some red herrings to our breakfast, while my boot-heel was a-mending, by the same token the boy left the hole as big as it was before." (Samuel Pepys diary entry of 28 February 1660)
  • preliminary prospectus
  • smoked-herring

Other Word Forms of Red Herring


red herring

Origin of Red Herring

  • It originated from a news story by English journalist William Cobbett, c. 1805, in which he claimed that as a boy he used a red herring (a cured and salted herring) to mislead hounds following a trail; the story served as an extended metaphor for the London press, which had earned Cobbett's ire by publishing false news accounts regarding Napoleon.

    From Wiktionary

  • Until 2008, the accepted etymology of the idiom was that red herring were used to train dogs to track scents. This has proven to be a false etymology.

    From Wiktionary

  • Sense 2, probably from the use of smoked herrings to lay scent trails for hounds to follow

    From American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition

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red herring