Red herring  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

A red herring is a clue which is intended to be misleading, or distracting from the actual issue. For example, in mystery fiction, where the identity of a criminal is being sought, an innocent party may be purposefully cast in a guilty light by the author through the employment of deceptive clues, false emphasis, "loaded" words or other descriptive tricks of the trade. The reader's suspicions are thus misdirected, allowing the true culprit to go (temporarily at least) undetected. A false protagonist is another example of a red herring.

The idiom "red herring" is used to refer to something that misleads or distracts from the relevant or important issue. It may be either a logical fallacy or a literary device that leads readers or characters towards a false conclusion. A red herring might be intentionally used, such as in mystery fiction or as part of a rhetorical strategy (e.g. in politics), or it could be inadvertently used during argumentation as a result of poor logic.

The origin of the expression is not known. Conventional wisdom has long supposed it to be the use of a kipper (a strong-smelling smoked fish) to train hounds to follow a scent, or to divert them from the correct route when hunting; however, modern linguistic research suggests that the term was probably invented in 1807 by English polemicist William Cobbett, referring to one occasion on which he had supposedly used a kipper to divert hounds from chasing a hare, and was never an actual practice of hunters. The phrase was later borrowed to provide a formal name for the logical fallacy and literary device.

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Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Red herring" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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