What does the idiom "red herring" mean?

Although the meanings of the words in them do not make any sense when examined one by one, the word groups that are shaped according to the cultural roots of the language and that make sense as a whole are called idioms. red herring meaning, in what situations is it used?

Meaning of "red herring"


The phrase “red herring” is an idiom that is used to describe a situation in which someone or something distracts from the main issue or point. The phrase implies that the distraction is a false or irrelevant lead, and that it is intentional in order to lead someone away from the real issue or the truth. Additionally, the phrase can be used to describe an argument in which someone purposely introduces a false or irrelevant topic in order to change the direction of the conversation.


The phrase “red herring” is believed to have originated in the early 19th century. It is believed to have stemmed from a practice of fishermen that used the strong smell of a particularly smelly kind of herring, known as the red herring, in order to distract hounds that were tracking a scent. This practice was known as “dragging a red herring” and it gave way to the phrase that we know today, “red herring.”


The phrase “red herring” is used to describe a situation in which someone or something is deliberately attempting to distract from the main issue, or to describe an argument in which someone introduces a false or irrelevant topic purposely to refocus the conversation. It is often used in a derogatory fashion and typically implies that the distraction is being used as a tactic to avoid addressing the real issue. The phrase is often used when describing political or legal discussions, as it is often used as a tactic in both fields.

Example Sentences

  • The politician tried to distract from the scandal by bringing up an unrelated issue, but it was obviously just a red herring.
  • The lawyer attempted to introduce a red herring in order to avoid answering the judge's questions.

The meanings of the words in the "red herring" idiom

From Shakespeare to Social Media: The Evolution of English Idioms

English idioms have been around for centuries, with many originating from sources like literature, mythology, and everyday life. Shakespeare, for example, coined many phrases that are still used today, such as "break the ice" and "heart of gold." Over time, new idioms have emerged, with social media and popular culture providing rich sources of inspiration. For instance, the phrase "throwing shade" came into use in the 1990s thanks to ball culture, but has since been popularized by social media.


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