This is post #2 in this theme week on deception. Today we dig back to the roots of a popular turn of a phrase.
Any time you watch a mystery movie, chances are you’ve been kept on your toes with a “red herring”… or false clues. This phrase has been a part of the English language for about 200 years.
A herring is a fish, much like a sardine, which remains a popular food item in Europe to this very day. In England there are many ways to eat herring such as kippers, bloaters, buckling and when smoked it’s called red herring. The meaning of the phrase is based on the fact that this smoked herring is rather smelly.
When training hounds as hunting dogs, they would drag dead animals, or this smoked herring, across the path of the intended prey in a deliberate attempt to mislead the hounds. This false scent trail was used as a test for the dogs to see if their nose would remain true. So there you have the meaning of the phrase… a false trail intended to distract you from the true path.
There is a lot of talk about the idea of red herrings being used by escaped convicts to mask their trail from the dogs, but personally I suspect that to be made up. After all, would a man on the run really stop to buy a kipper between the prison and the forest?
There’s another peculiar story of a wealthy clergyman who promised in his will a great gift to his servant. He had left great sums of money to rebuild St. Paul’s Cathedral, and to the poor people in his parish, so the servant was anxious to open his large trunk to find… a smoked herring. (insert sad trumpet sound)
As evidenced in yesterday’s story of Operation Fortitude a red herring is an important part of any deception, as it distracts your victim long enough to pull off the true plan.