red herring

Discussion in 'English Only' started by andersxman, Apr 5, 2006.

  1. andersxman Senior Member

    How to use "red harring". If for example a professor says, much to the liking of his students, that from now on his classes will begin later in the day, and thus allow the students to sleep in every tuesday - well knowing that it's not the case, and that he will reveal the awful truth to the students shortly thereafter, can it be said that he's "fed them a red harring".

    BTW is it "to feed" a red harring?
  2. laurahya Senior Member

    BC, Canada
    British English
    It's actually a 'red herring' (like the fish). A red herring is something that draws attention away from the basic issue. It's often used in the crime/detective genre to refer to clues that mislead the investigator or viewer/reader.

  3. andersxman Senior Member

    oh right, thank you. Are red herrings "fed", then?
  4. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    To me the word 'red herring' implies some sort of search or investigation, whether for a person, a criminal, scientific knowledge or a new product. It's not just something that's misleading, but something that appears to offer an answer (a clue or a 'lead' in your search, for example), but which ends up going nowhere.

    Although the expression comes from the practice that fugitives had of leaving a fish on their trail to confuse the dogs chasing them, I don't think red herrings are generally 'fed to' or 'left for' someone else. (But maybe I don't read enough detective novels. :) ) They tend to be things that just appear, chance findings that seem promising but lead nowhere. The verb most commonly used with the expression is probably 'be', although you often hear 'turn out to be', 'end up being' and so on.

    Some examples:
    - Those footprints are just a red herring.
    - The bus ticket found on the victim's body turned out to be a red herring.
    - Pharmaceutical companies often invest millions of dollars in drugs that end up being red herrings.
    - They were chasing a red herring.
    - Is this real or is it a red herring?
  5. river Senior Member

    U.S. English
    " A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue."

    Red herring - directing attention away from a point to one that people will agree with. {It is pointless to talk about violence in the city when thousands of people die from cigarettes.}
  6. maxiogee Banned

    I'd have to query the pharmaceutical reference - and possibly the bus ticket.
    The allusion in the expression "red herring" derives from the drawing of a kipper across the trail of a fox to put hounds off the scent and so disrupt a hunt. A kipper is a cured and smoked herring and is red, well ginger, in colour.
    "Red herrings" therefore are not the same as "a wild goose chase" but are deliberate attempts to distract. So that the company which invests money in a project which turns out to be unprofitable isn't doing anything herring-related. And unless someone planted the bus ticket on the body then it isn't a red herring either.
  7. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    OK, it must be just me then. I didn't think deliberateness was a necessary part of the idea any more, but I can't say I consulted dictionaries or anything.
  8. laurahya Senior Member

    BC, Canada
    British English
    In that context, I don't think the clues necessarily have to be left deliberately. You might think, for example, that a victim's suspicious roommate was the key to the case but you later discovered that they had nothing to do with it. You might then say that "the roommate turned out to be a red herring." In a way, it's a person's (mis)understanding of something as relevant that makes it a red herring, rather than a deliberate intention to mislead.

    If that makes sense ;)
  9. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I think my red herrings should, in principle, be deliberate attempts to mislead. But as the effect on the searcher-for-truth of a deliberate red herring and an accidental wild goose are more or less the same, I suspect that the purity of the definition is blurring.

    A red herring is, of course a dyed smoked herring - a kipper.
    They are even better smoked and not dyed.
    If you happen to like fish, and smoked fish in particular, there is nothing in this world that can compare with a Whitby Kipper - thick, juicy, succulent and the size of a dinner-plate.
    Here they are
    and here is the smoke-house.
    Here are the kippers inside the smokehouse, smoking.

    I love kippers.
    I also love Whitby:D

Share This Page