Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thursday Trivia: Red Herrings

You've all heard the phrase "a red herring". It's a technique used to distract you from your current pursuit.

But did you know in a literal sense, there's no such thing as a red herring?

The term came about when describing a kipper that was very heavily smoked for preservation - a process used prior to refrigeration.

The curing process turned the flesh of the kipper a reddish color.

What does that term have to do with a pet blog - other than the fact all 3 cats are now drooling over all this fish talk?

If you use a red herring to throw someone off your scent, you're referencing a hunting hound from old England.

The earliest reference is in a pamphlet dated 1599 by the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe. He writes, "Next, to draw on hounds to a scent, to a red herring skin there is nothing comparable."

Somehow, out of this grew a tale that a red herring was used to confuse the noses of hounds chasing a fox. Yet Michael Quinn writes in his blog "World Wide Words" that actual historical mention of the red herring isn't to trick a dog or throw him off the scent, but rather to train the dog to follow a scent in the first place.

How its meaning was flipped 180 degrees can be traced to the writings of a political journalist from the early 1800s who purposely skewed its meaning.

The use of the phrase caught on and became an idiom for purposeful redirection still in popular use today.

Sources: Wikipedia and Michael Quinn 


  1. And that's why I read blogs every never know what piece of interesting trivia you can learn...this one is fun

    1. And we had fun snoopervising mom while she did all the research and stuff MOL!!

  2. Yep but did they get to eat it when they found it? Good game if they did. Love herrings. Have a terrific Thursday.
    Best wishes Molly

  3. fish.....we love us some fish....

    wait - mom says that wasn't the point. bummer :)

  4. We love your trivia..BOL Have a wonderful Thurzday xx0xx

    Mollie and Alfie

  5. That sounds a little fishie to us...heeheeheeheehee! Hopefully those working hounds of days of old , got a bucket of herrings at the end of the day :)

    the critters in the cottage xo

  6. Yum yum. Red or not, that herring is making us drool!

  7. I'm still wondering when I am going to get some herring!

  8. Great trivia today! ... but now, like all the others, I'm hungry.
    ; ) Katie

  9. Quite interesting. I always am curious about where these often used sayings come from. Thanks for sharing. Purrs and hugs, the gang at The Cat on My Head

  10. We had fish for supper tonight but we don't think it was a red herring because it was white. (And nommy.)

  11. Leave it to a politician to use a word for his own means. I've heard of the phrase but never ever have heaerd it used.

  12. Wow, thank you for posting about this and about telling mommy about World Wide Words. She loves language! Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrs.

  13. Well, we actually learned something today!!

  14. So long, and thanks for all the fish...stories!

  15. The Trout Town tabbies will love this one!!! It's a bit fishy though ;)

  16. Mom says she thinks she saw a real one on her visit to China a few years ago...and no way was she gonna put that thing on her plate, nope, none whatsoever...just sayin'...paw pats Savannah


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