Red herring

Posted by R. Berg on December 29, 2001 at

In Reply to: Red herring posted by Michael on December 29, 2001

: I've heard the phrase "red herring" several times recently. Any ideas of meaning or origin?

From the Oxford English Dictionary:
"To draw a red herring across the track" (cf. quot. 1686 . . . ): to attempt to divert attention from the real question; hence "red-herring," a subject intended to have this effect.
[The "quot. 1686":] "The trailing or dragging of a dead Cat, or Fox, (and in case of necessity a Red-Herring) three or four miles . . . and then laying the Dogs on the scent" (Nicholas Cox, "The Gentleman's Recreation," 1686).

(Red herrings are literally herrings that turn red when cured by smoking.)