red herring

[ red-her-ing ]
See synonyms for red herring on
  1. a smoked herring.

  2. something intended to divert attention from the real problem or matter at hand; a misleading clue.

  1. Also called red-her·ring pro·spec·tus [red-her-ing pruh-spek-tuhs] /ˈrɛdˈhɛr ɪŋ prəˌspɛk təs/ .Finance. a tentative prospectus circulated by the underwriters of a new issue of stocks or bonds that is pending approval by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: so called because the front cover of such a prospectus must carry a special notice printed in red.

  2. any similar tentative financial prospectus, as one concerning a pending or proposed sale of cooperative or condominium apartments.

Origin of red herring

First recorded in 1375–1425; late Middle English Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use red herring in a sentence

  • But we have to discuss the red-herring, not of the artful politician, anxious to dodge his hearers, but of the breakfast-table.

    East Anglia | J. Ewing Ritchie
  • The red herring of annexation was drawn across the trail, and many a farmer followed it to the polling booth.

    The Canadian Dominion | Oscar D. Skelton
  • I know not what object her pale blue orbs encountered; but mine fell on the half-picked head of a red herring!

  • If I can tell which is the way to my master's house, I am a red herring, and no honest gentleman.

  • As Grandfather Bryant used to say, they are neither fish nor flesh, nor good red herring.

    The Boy Settlers | Noah Brooks

British Dictionary definitions for red herring

red herring

  1. anything that diverts attention from a topic or line of inquiry

  2. a herring cured by salting and smoking

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Cultural definitions for red herring

red herring

In argument, something designed to divert an opponent's attention from the central issue. If a herring is dragged across a trail that hounds are following, it throws them off the scent.

The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Other Idioms and Phrases with red herring

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® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.