Red herring

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A red herring is something that misleads or distracts from an issue.[1]

There are two ways in which it is used. It may be used as logical fallacy during an argument or as literary device that leads readers or audiences towards a false conclusion, for example in detective mystery books.[2][3]

It has long been thought that the phrase came from kippers (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train dogs to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert dogs from chasing a hare, and that hunters never actually used kippers to train dogs.[4] The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.

References[change | change source]

  1. Oxford English Dictionary. red herring, n. Third edition, September 2009; online version December 2011.; accessed 18 December 2011. An entry for this word was first included in New English Dictionary, 1904.
  2. Hurley, Patrick J. (2011). A Concise Introduction to Logic. Cengage Learning. pp. 131–133. ISBN 978-0-8400-3417-5.
  3. Niazi, Nozar (2010). How To Study Literature: Stylistic And Pragmatic Approaches. PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd. p. 142. ISBN 9788120340619. Retrieved 2013-03-02.
  4. Evans, Ivor H. (ed.) (1981) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (Centenary edition, revised) New York: Harper & Row. p.549. ISBN 0-06-014903-5