Talk:red herring

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Etymology[edit]

This revision has too long etymology IMHO, so I have somewhat boldly removed it. It may still contain some valuable material. However, etymology section should not contain extensive quotations proving its point. --Dan Polansky 07:32, 17 March 2010 (UTC)


Dan, yes, I think it does actually contain some valuable material, as in the truth of the matter in my view. I think it is a very clear 1682 reference to a Red Herring being suggested for use in creating a false trail. And it occurs well before the 1805 William Cobbett date that has been suggested. Perhaps the passage in more context will be more persuasive:

"Therefore I have heard him say often, That the Act of Oblivion was an Act of the King's Honour and Justice, but not of his Mercy; it being a Treaty and Agreement, much more sacred than any Act of Parliament can be; and I must tell your Lordship, and your Friends the Papists, that if you consider what Promises, Declarations, and Engagements the dissenting Protestants had, both of his Majesty, his Lords, and his Bishops, at the Time of his coming over, and how they have been since used, and with what Submission and Loyalty they have carried themselves, you will not find a parallel instance.

But your Lordship's Business is, to keep your Hounds in full Cry against the pretended Association, for since you cannot find one really in being, a Red herring from your own Kitchen must be hunted, and trailed through the Kingdom, to make a Noise.

The Malice is more than the Wit in the Matter. You have broken down your Gates in the Chase, and made so many Gaps in your own Hedges, that your Cattle are broke out and come to the Pound; and what Sort of Beasts you trade in will be discovered. 'Tis an Impudence beyond the Jesuits, to say that nothing was more exactly proved, nothing more unquestionable and free from Disputes, than that the Association was seized in the Earl's Closet; Gwyn himself neither does nor dare positively swear it.... " -- Excerpt from: A Reply to the Second Return: 1682. Unknown author. In F. Cogan. A collection of scarce and valuable tracts, on the most interesting and entertaining subjects: but chiefly such as relate to the history and constitution of these kingdoms. London. 1750. Volume 3. Page 342.

I have new to wiktionary so will not make any article changes, but rather leave it to established contributors to ponder this evidence. I will use it in my own work. (p.s. earlier references might yet turn up, but 1682 is still an earlier occurence than 1805.)


Randal Oulton 20:52, 2 October 2010 (UTC)

The metaphor was clearly alive in the seventeenth century, but it is fair to say that Cobbett popularised it in the first decade of the nineteenth century. I've added the other possible origin as identified by the OED (Susi Dent on "Countdown"). Dbfirs 16:12, 18 October 2014 (UTC)