Red-herring meaning

The definition of a red herring is something intended to distract you or throw you off the track from the truth.

When a murderer plants a knife in someone else's home to try to throw the police off track, the knife is an example of a red herring.

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A smoked herring having a reddish color.
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Something that draws attention away from the matter being discussed or dealt with.
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A smoked herring.
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Something used to divert attention from the basic issue.
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A preliminary prospectus, subject to amendment, for an issue of securities.
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A preliminary prospectus issued by a company that is planning a public securities offering. The term comes from the bright red letters that are printed on the cover and the fact that the prospectus has not been approved by the SEC. See also prospectus.
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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.
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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)

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(figuratively) A clue or information that is or is intended to be misleading, that diverts attention from a question.
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Origin of red-herring

  • 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

  • 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