Search This Blog

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Red herring

The phrase "a red herring" is used either to denounce an evasive action or remark intended to divert people's attention from the real issue or a literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion.

When herrings are kippered by smoking and salting in order to preserve them, they turn reddish-brown.

Red herrings By misocrazy from New York, NY 

Three explanations have been given for the derivation of the phrase, all of which are derived from fox hunting. They all refer to the fact that prior to refrigeration herrings were known for being strongly pungent.

The term was invented in 1807 by English politician and journalist William Cobbett, referring to how he used red herrings to lay a false trail, while training hunting dogs in order to divert them from chasing a hare,

In 19th century England fox lovers sabotaged the hunt by dragging "smoked" red herrings along the route away from the fox. The dogs became confused, following the strong scent of the herring rather than the fox, hence the phrase "red herring" meaning to follow the wrong clue.

Or, the phrase recalls the practice of fox hunters whilst training their hounds to drag a pungent "red herring" across the animal's trail; its smell was intended to cover up the quarry's scent.

Sources Europress Family Encyclopedia 1999, Red Herrings and white Elephants: The Origins Of The Phrases We Use Every Day by Albert Jack

No comments:

Post a Comment