Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Related to herring: sardines
neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring
obsolete Not belonging to any suitable class of thing; unfit for any purpose or to be used by anyone. This older phrase appeared in a 16th-century proverb collection, where fish refers to food for monks (who abstained from meat), flesh refers to food for the general populace, and "good red herring" refers to inexpensive fish that would have been food for the poor. With crime as it is in this township, the law must be aggressive and dependable; unfortunately, the new constable is neither fish, flesh, nor good red herring.
Something irrelevant that diverts attention away from the main problem or issue. The candidate used the minor issue as a red herring to distract voters from the corruption accusations against him. The mystery writer is known for introducing red herrings to arouse the reader's suspicion of innocent characters.
a piece of information or suggestion introduced to draw attention away from the real facts of a situation. (A red herring is a type of strong-smelling smoked fish that was once drawn across the trail of a scent to mislead hunting dogs and put them off the scent.) The detectives were following a red herring, but they're on the right track now. The mystery novel has a couple of red herrings that keep readers off guard.
dead as a doornail
Also, dead as a dodo or herring . Totally or assuredly dead; also finished. For example, The cop announced that the body in the dumpster was dead as a doornail, or The radicalism she professed in her adolescence is now dead as a dodo, or The Equal Rights Amendment appears to be dead as a herring. The first, oldest, and most common of these similes, all of which can be applied literally to persons or, more often today, to issues, involves doornail, dating from about 1350. Its meaning is disputed but most likely it referred to the costly metal nails hammered into the outer doors of the wealthy (most people used the much cheaper wooden pegs), which were clinched on the inside of the door and therefore were "dead," that is, could not be used again. Dead as a herring dates from the 16th century and no doubt alludes to the bad smell this dead fish gives off, making its death quite obvious. Dead as a dodo, referring to the extinct bird, dates from the early 1900s.
Something that draws attention away from the central issue, as in Talking about the new plant is a red herring to keep us from learning about downsizing plans . The herring in this expression is red and strong-smelling from being preserved by smoking. The idiom alludes to dragging a smoked herring across a trail to cover up the scent and throw off tracking dogs. [Late 1800s]
dead as a doornail
1. If a person or animal is as dead as a doornail, they are completely dead. From the start of the movie it is clear that she will be as dead as a doornail by the time the credits roll.
2. If something or someone is as dead as a doornail, they are no longer active or popular. My $2,500 computer was dead as a doornail. Nobody will hire him now. He's finished. Dead as a doornail. Note: It is not certain what `doornail' actually refers to. In medieval times, it may have been the plate or knob on a door which was hit by the knocker. It was thought that anything that was struck so often must have been dead. Alternatively, doornails may have been the thick nails which were set into outer doors. It is not clear why these nails should be described as `dead'.
a red herring
COMMON If something is a red herring, it takes people's attention away from the main subject, problem, or situation that they should be considering. All the fuss about high pay for public employees is a bit of a red herring. The really serious money is to be found in private companies. A sighting of the missing woman in London turned out to be a red herring. Note: A red herring is a herring that has been soaked in salt water for several days, and then dried by smoke. Red herrings were sometimes used when training dogs to follow a scent. They were also sometimes used to distract dogs from the scent they were following during a hunt.
dead as a doornail (or as mutton)completely dead.
A doornail was one of the large iron studs formerly often used on doors for ornamentation or for added strength; the word occurred in various alliterative phrases (e.g. deaf as a doornail and dour as a doornail ) but dead as a doornail is now the only one in common use.
a red herringsomething, especially a clue, which is or is intended to be misleading or distracting.
This expression derives from the former practice of using the pungent scent of a dried smoked herring to teach hounds to follow a trail (smoked herrings were red in colour as a result of the curing process).
(as) ˌdead as a ˈdoornail(informal) completely dead
a red ˈherringa fact, etc. which somebody introduces into a discussion because they want to take people’s attention away from the main point: Look, the situation in French agriculture is just a red herring. We’re here to discuss the situation in this country.This idiom comes from the custom of using the scent of a smoked, dried herring (which was red) to train dogs to hunt.
dead as a doornail
dead as a doornail
Dead, unresponsive, defunct. This simile dates from the fourteenth century and the source of it has been lost. A doornail was either a heavy-headed nail for studding an outer door or the knob on which a door knocker strikes. One plausible explanation for the analogy to death is that it alluded to costly metal nails (rather than cheap wooden pegs), which were clinched and hence “dead” (could not be re-used). The expression was used in a fourteenth-century poem of unknown authorship, William of Palerne, and was still current when Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol (1843). There have been numerous similar proverbial comparisons—dead as a mackerel, dead as mutton, dead as a herring, dead as a stone—but this one, with its alliterative lilt, has survived longest.
A diversionary tactic; a false or deliberately misleading trail. This expression comes from the use of strong-smelling smoked herrings as a lure to train hunting dogs to follow a scent. They also could be used to throw dogs off the scent, and it was this characteristic that was transferred to the metaphoric use of red herring. “Diverted from their own affairs by the red herring of foreign politics so adroitly drawn across the trail,” wrote W. F. Butler (Life of Napier, 1890).
A misleading clue. Many people who know the phrase believe it came from the practice of game poachers laying scents of smoked herring (smoking accounted for the fish's reddish color) to throw gamekeepers and their dogs off the poachers' scent. However, etymologists discount that explanation, favoring instead that the phrase originated with an English writer who used the scent-laying image as a metaphor for a particular political plan. Mystery writers, readers, and critics use “red herring” to describe a piece of plotting intended to throw the reader off in deducing who-done-it. The financial world uses the phrase to mean a stock prospectus, not from any intent to deceive, but because the document has a red cover.