red herring

Bob Haas highbob at MINDSPRING.COM
Fri Feb 25 05:48:26 UTC 2000


A red herring is a smoke screen, a false lead, meant to distract or derail
an argument.  The idiomatic meaning supposedly comes from the original red
herring, which is a herring prepared by smoking that puts off a powerful
odor.  A fugetive, or someone else being pursued by hounds could use such a
herring to waylay the dogs and make a getaway.  I've no idea if that is the
true etymology.  It's a good story, though.

Hope that helps.


Bob Haas
Department of English
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
High Point University

"Shun the frumious Bandersnatch!"

> I've got this message from one list. Could the community kindly comment on
> the phrase 'red herring' - its etimology and the associations.
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> From: "Mackie J.V. Blanton" <mblanton at UNO.EDU>
> It really isn't difficult to get.  The American Flag is one of many
> symbols that represent the American Constitution.  Among other several
> symbols, the Confederate Flag represents the Confederate Constitution.
> We reject the Confederate Flag because we do not accept its
> Constitution.  Hence, we need to see that supporting the Confederate
> Flag re-establishes a struggle between two consitutions.  If we really
> want this struggle in America, then we need to be debating competing
> constitutions.  The flag is a red herring.

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