Red Herring

A red herring, pic: opentabernacle.wordpress.com

My first introduction to the concept of a Red Herring was in form of the business magazine.  It was the late 90s and everybody in business school was reading those magazines – when they weren’t calling their stock brokers to do a little in-between-class trading, that is.  It was the days before Internet brokers.

Herring makes me think of fish and actually, for once I am not so terribly off with that notion.   But first to the meaning of that phrase:  a red herring is the tactic of diverting attention away from what matters and onto something else.  The idea is to win an argument by diverting attention away from the argument and onto another topic.

Mystery fiction is a good example, often a false suspect is established in the course of the story as a way of distracting the attention away from the real culprit.

The origin of the phrase actually has to do with fish, strongly cured or heavily smoked kipper – which smell pungently and have a reddish color.  These fish were used to train young scent hounds – first to follow a strong scent, then to not be distracted from the faint smell of a fox or whatever was being hunted but the strong smell of a “red herring” that was dragged across the hunted animals trail.

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