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Red Herring

September 29, 2021

Red Herring

Definition: A red herring is a piece of information (usually a clue) presented as an answer to a solution to misleading those looking for the solution.

In a literal sense, a red herring is a small smoked little fish that smells pungent and fishy. Interestingly, the two definitions are closely related. The smelly fish led to the creation of using them to conceal or mislead people.

Etymology: There have been few stories over the centuries about the first use of “red herring.” Walter of Bibbesworth, who wrote The Treatise, mentions in a 1250 passage about a training technique.

The actual origin was discovered in 2008 and published in Comments on Etymology. Red herring was used in 1807 by William Cobbett in political opposition to reporters who have no courage.

In a Sentence

The suspect produced a store receipt he claims is from the time of the murder. However, police discovered the receipt to be a red herring.

Although the toddler knew nothing about smelly smoked fish, he did an excellent job giving his parents a red herring about what he was doing.

Solving a case too quickly might seem like a red herring to some investigators.


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