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What is a 'red herring'?

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You have probably heard the phrase "a red herring." Usually this phrase is used during police investigations or other questioning situations. We know a herring is a fish, but what is a red herring? And what does it have to do with investigations and questions?

A red herring is a figurative expression referring to a logical fallacy in which a clue or piece of information is intended to be misleading, or distracting from the actual question. The idiom "red herring" is used to refer to something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue.

One may call something a red herring when it leads readers or hearers into a false conclusion. A red herring might be intentionally used as a strategy to make one's point believable while keeping the real truth hidden.

Perhaps the expression is based on the fact that a herring is a strong-smelling fish that has been smoked to a reddish brown color. Technically, there is no such fish as a "red herring." The fish refers to in the expression is a strong kipper, a fish that has been strongly cured in brine and heavily smoked. This process makes the fish particularly pungent smelling and, with strong enough brine, turns its flesh red. The fish is used to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting. This helps to explain that a red herring is something said in an argument that is not relevant to the issue being discussed. However, it is used to distract the hearer to lead him or her to a different conclusion.

Have you ever used the expression "red herring"? Have you ever heard someone else use the expression? Perhaps you have been using the concept without knowing what's it's called.

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