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Red Herring: Definition and Useful Examples of Red Herring Fallacy


What is the red herring fallacy? Within the English language, there are many different types of fallacy and one of these is the red herring fallacy. Whilst it might seem like a confusing concept to begin with, it is in fact very easy to understand when you look at it in a little more detail. In this article, we are going to be taking a much closer look at the red herring fallacy by looking at, not only what it is but also how it works within spoken and written contexts in English. We will be then taking a look at some examples of the red herring fallacy as a way of gaining a greater understanding of its function.

Red Herring Fallacy

Red Herring Definition

What Is The Red Herring Fallacy? The red herring fallacy is a type of fallacy which is used as a way of distracting away from the original topic that is being discussed. This is something which is frequently done in both a literary sense when the writer wishes to divert the attention of the reader away from the topic at hand or in spoken English. It can be used as a way for the listener or reader to draw a false conclusion from the information that they are being given.

The phrase red herring originally comes from the name of a dried fish which has a very strong odour. This type of fish was used in fox hunting, the dogs would be distracted by the smell of the fish and therefore would be distracted from actually catching the foxes, and this is where the name comes from.

Red Herring Fallacy In Literature

As we mentioned, writers will often use the red herring fallacy within their work as a way of distracting the reader away from the truth of the situation. This is a technique which is regularly applied in fictional works based around crime and detective work as a way of keeping the reader on their toes. This will mislead the reader and in some cases can be used as a way of misleading the characters within the story as well.

One of the most common uses of the red herring fallacy in literature is to lead the reader to believe that a certain character is the suspect of a crime. This can be done in many ways and will often be revealed later in the story to be a fallacy when the true culprit is brought to light.

Red Herring Fallacy In Spoken English

There are many areas of spoken conversation in which the red herring fallacy might be used. One such example would be when a child is trying to distract their parents from a task that they do not want to do. Another time that you might see the red herring fallacy being used in day to day conversation would be in debates or arguments as a way of distracting your opponent off the topic at hand.

Red Herring Examples

Now that we have a better understanding of what the red herring fallacy is and how it functions within both written and spoken English, we are ready to take a look at some examples of it being used. These examples will give you a better and more clear idea of what they red herring fallacy can do.

A Child Distracting Her Mother

In the following conversation, we will see a small children using the red herring fallacy as a way of distracting her mother at meal time.

  • Mother: It’s time to eat your vegetables now.
  • Daughter: Mommy, why is the sky blue?
  • Mother: I don’t know, but you must eat these carrots and peas.
  • Daughter: And why is the grass green?
  • Mother: Because it is, now eat your food.

The child in this scenario successfully distracts the mother away from telling her to eat her vegetables, which she does not want to do.

A Debate About Marriage

In the following statement, a person is arguing against gay marriage, they are aware that they will likely lose the debate and so make use of a red herring as a way of distracting the opposition. This might be successful in avoiding having to fight a losing battle.

I am not for gay marriage, it is not how marriage was traditionally meant to be. Anyway, married people are experiencing higher taxes and I personally find this abhorrent. What do you think?

In A Business Discussion

When the owner of a business is confronted about why he hasn’t given his staff a pay rise in many years, he might make use of a red herring fallacy as a way to avoid the issue. This will distract the person asking the question and the business owner will then not be forced into discussing something he is not comfortable with.

No, we haven’t given our staff a paynrise in quite some time but we do put a lot of money into making a top quality product. Have you seen our latest development? It is certainly a sight to behold.

Red Herring Fallacy In Literature

In Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code, we see the use of the red herring fallacy in the character of Bishop Aringarosa. He is shown to the reader as one who should be the suspect of creating the conspiracy within the church. However, we later see that he is in fact innocent. the name of the character interestingly translates into English as meaning red herring.

In The hound of the Baskervilles written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle we see another example of the red herring when the author leads us to believe that the character Barrymore is the murdered. However, we are later shown that this is not the case.


The red herring fallacy is a commonly used type of fallacy which allows the speaker or the author to divert the audience’s attention away from the topic which is being discussed. This is done by bringing up something which is irrelevant and not necessary therefore creating a successful diversion. The red herring fallacy can be used in both a spoken and written context and we have seen some examples to demonstrate this.

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Red Herring Fallacy

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