What does this idiom mean: "read herring"?


Hi, what exactly is a red herring? I know it’s an idiom but what does it mean and what is the origin?


A red herring is a term often used in business. It means that something about a project is not quite as it seems, something might be wrong, so the the red herring acts as a warning.
As for the origin, I think there might be various explanations. One of them says that in the 1800’s British fugitives (people fleeing the authorities) would rub a herring across their trail in order to divert (mislead) the bloodhounds that were following them.
There is more to it and maybe someone will relate their knowlegde on this idiom.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: The herdsman[YSaerTTEW443543]


Hi Andreana,
“Red Herring” is a term that is often used to describe a misleading answer or conclusion to an investigation. The term was used by the Police at Scotland Yard and elsewhere. Also by Sherlock Holmes in the good old days. A Red Herring was used to deceive as a Decoy (an immitation duck on the water) by a criminal (or in war-time) to fool the police (or the enemy) who were on the trail of their antics (or mission).
The origin I have forgotten. There is a wonderful board game called Cluedo which is just about as popular as Monopoly (or was) in which you will find a Red Herring. It is the typical “Who done it” story.
e.g. / i.e. / for example :
The Butler was killed by Mrs,White with the Candlestick in the Conservatory.
I hope this information helps.

Can anybody else comment? Bruce.


Hello Bruce, thank you for your answer. What exactly is a 'who done it story*? I understand it’s a game like Monopoly? Why is it a story?


Hi Andreana,

The expression “Who done it” is exactly that - an expression.
It comes from the everyday use of the term in the realms of police investigation about the turn of the century in GB and the USA.
It became trendy to use as a “Hackneyed” or over used term or “Clich?”.

It?s like the words and term “Surfing in the Internet”.
Surfing is normally related to a surf board in California.
“Surfing the waves” of the Pacific Ocean etc., but today it has been taken over as the regular term for “Surfing in the Internet”.

In the same way the term “Who done it” is rather American in phrase
because in British English (BE) we would correctly say “Who did it”.
American English (AE) is often slightly changed to suit their way of expression. The word “done” would normally be used in the Present Perfect and “did” in the Past Simple.
The American (probably through the Afro-American or Southern States influence) tend to use the Perfect for the Past Tense.
Remember your Irregular Verb Tables? For example :

Infinitive ~ Past ~ Perfect

Do (es) ~ Did ~ Done

“Who done it” is an expression to name a type of story.

If I say I am going to write a “Who done it” a person knows straight away
that I am going to write a murder crime story. This was often of a domestic nature involving jealousy, inheritance money or revenge within
a family or a company.
These types of stories were made famous by Arthur Conan-Doyle who wrote Sherlock Holmes. Also by Agatha Christie who wrote many Crime Novels. The story called “The Mouse Trap” by Agatha Christie has been played on Stage in London since its publishing - about 60 years ago and is still as popular as ever. Recently the crime stories of author Ruth Rendell have been televised on British Television.

I hope that has helps you somewhat.


Hello Dear Bruce,
Your informations and answers were outstanding!
Sir what is the difference between " Past Simple" and “past perfect”? I am concerned about technical points.
Please reply and explain it.


A “red herring” is usually a comment from an earlier discussion, and it is used by someone to divert the attention away from the present discussion.