The Red Herring Mish Mash
In Wisconsin, United States
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N44 26.253 W88 01.374
A red herring is an idiom referring to a device which intends to divert the audience from the truth or an item of significance. Forexample, in mystery fiction, an innocent party may be purposefully cast as highly suspect through emphasis or descriptive techniques; attention is drawn away from the true guilty party.While there is no such fish as a "red herring", the term red herring refers to preserved herring. The smoking and brining process gave the fish a distinct reddish-brown color as well as a strong odor.
It is popularly believed that the idiom originates from a technique of training of young scent hounds involving"red" herrings. The pungent fish would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent. Later, when the dog was being trained to follow the faint odor of a fox or a badger, the trainer would drag a red herring (whose strong scent confuses the animal) orthogonally to the animal's trail to confuse the dog. The dog would eventually learn to follow the original scent rather than the stronger scent. An alternate etymology points to escaping convicts who would use the pungent fish to throw off hounds in pursuit.
In reality, the technique was probably never used to train hounds. The term originates from an article published 14 February, 1807 by journalist William Cobbett in the polemical Weekly Political Register. In a critique of the English press, which had erroneously reported Napoleon's defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare. In response to the press mistake, Cobbett declared, "It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone."
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Last Updated: on 2/11/2015 2:25:55 PM (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada) (10:25 PM GMT)
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