Friday, October 8, 2010

Literary Devices Part 6: Of Red Herring and Dogs


We all know what it means. But how on earth did it get that name? And what do dogs have to do with stinky, pickled fish, hmmm?

Well, one theory is that people who used to train hunting dogs with herring (which turn red when pickled just so).

Once the dogs grew skilled at following the fishy trails, they used more subtly scented objects to fine tune their skills, like dead badgers, which apparently possess a far more delicate kind of stench.

Anywho, the trainers supposedly crossed the scent trail with a perpendicular trail of red herring juice or shmears, in order to throw the dog off and teach it not to be distracted by the familiar fish odor.

Well. That's all nice but it's probably the true origin of the term. It comes from William Cobbett, who in 1807 complained about the false journalistic reporting the Napoleon was defeated. He'd once used a red herring to turn dogs away from attacking a hare. His quote, "It was a mere transitory effect of the red-herring, for on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as stone" was repeated enough that the idiom eventually stuck.

Red herrings seem to be of more use in mystery plots. Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Allen Poe are famous for using red herrings in their plots.

So there you have it. Happy Friday everyone. Now. Let's crack open a cozy mystery and hey...

...does anyone fancy a kipper?

43 comments:

Maria Zannini said...

I never knew that. Cool.
Thanks!

KatieO said...

Interesting tidbit!
Love the illustration ;-)

Renae said...

Interesting! Love the illustration!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Great post, Lydia. =o)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

So that's how it got it's name.

Okay, so why do I keep missing your posts, Lydia? Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do.

lbdiamond said...

LOL, what a tail! *nyuck nyuck*

I never knew this--thanks for sharing! I don't think I use red herrings in my stories...might have to come up with one.

Then again, I'm so SICK of test questions with a red herring that I can't tolerate them, LOL!

j.m. neeb said...

Very interesting... and I love the accompanying illustration!!

Laura Eno said...

I use red herrings in writing, but I didn't know anything about where the name came from. Thanks!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Thanks, I learned something today!

Matthew Rush said...

I love etymologies! Even if they are for idioms and not just words. Fun! But pickled Herring is disgusting. I'm just sayin.

Liza said...

Love the etymology of language...

Kelly said...

Okay, I did not know that! But I do know that I've never eaten pickled herring myself and most likely never will :).

Carol Kilgore said...

Never knew all that. But I do know about red herrings and I have one in my wip.

Stacy Post said...

I think to fully distract me from my task, a pickled herring would have to be a red velvet cupcake with whipped frosting. :)

I like the idea of putting a red herring in a story, but I think it takes a lot of skill to pull it off successfully. Something to strive for? Sure!

The Red Angel said...

Haha, this was amusing, especially the little comic. :) Thanks for the Friday morning laughs!

I think it's a bit tough adding a red herring to a story, but if you know how to use one and do it right, it will be very effective!

~TRA

http://xtheredangelx.blogspot.com

Bossy Betty said...

I've always wondered! Now I know!

Thanks!

JEM said...

I never knew red herrings were smelly. Gross.

Quinn said...

Interesting to see how this term originated. Learned something new today!

By the way, thanks for following my blog. Glad I found yours.

Sandy Shin said...

It's so cool to learn the histories behind these literary names. :D

I love red herrings in my mysteries. It's always so cool trying to pick out the genuine scent.

Indigo said...

Interesting. I learned something new. Kind of makes you want to think of something or other to use that term on. (Hugs)Indigo

Clarissa Draper said...

I did know about red herrings but it was nice to be reacquainted again. Wonderful post and I loved that doggy pic.

CD

Samantha Bennett said...

A little history lesson. I love it!

Melissa said...

I never knew any of this! Thanks for sharing. I just realized how much I missed your posts! So glad to finally have you back with us.

Krispy said...

I did NOT know that! Fascinating. I love learning random bits of trivia, so you sort of made my day. I'll have to share now. :)

lettucehead said...

I never knew what a Red Herring was. I know, I'm sheltered. Am I missing out? Thanks for following, I shall be following you! :)

Valerie Geary said...

Things that make you go hmmmmm....

Clara said...

Pretty enlightening! I fancy a kipper =)

Holly Ruggiero said...

Very interesting. No kipper for me thanks.

The Words Crafter said...

Huh. Didn't know this, thanks! I love learning about the origins of things.

Shannon said...

I've always wondered about this. Thanks for teaching me something new today. =)

Jai Joshi said...

JKRowling is a master of the red herring. I can't even tell you of the HP fan fics of I've read based on red herrings that she planted so well in the story.

Jai

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Lydia..good to see you back. Hope the exams went well. I have always wondered about Red Herrings, thanks for this informative post. Now to go and add some Red Herrings in my WIP.

Bee said...

Wow. I've always been curious about that. But always to lazy to find out.

Lynn said...

"The scent became as cold as stone." I really like that!

Heather said...

I had no idea that's where that saying came from! Thanks for sharing that with us. Now for a kipper… Wait, what's a kipper?

~Nicole Ducleroir~ said...

I've never heard of "red-herring." *crawls out from underneath my rock* Thanks for blogging about it! Off to learn more...

Happy weekend!

Theresa Milstein said...

I never knew the story behind the red herring. Thanks for the info!

DL Hammons said...

Hey...I've got a cozy mystery you can crack open!! :)

Mary Campbell said...

Thanks for the info - I always that it had to do with Communists Russians - since they are often referred to as Reds - I thought it was a Russian idiom of sorts.

Nick said...

Interesting! Yes, I had kippers growing up. But not often, thankfully.

Phoenix said...

Great post. I love finding the origins of words, being the geek that I am. Did you know that minding your p's and q's is minding your pints and quarts when it comes to handling how much you can drink, not minding your own business?

I'm such a nerd.

notesfromnadir said...

No idea about the term red herring, either! You are a fine literary detective.

Lydia Kang said...

I'm glad everyone liked it!

Phoenix--P's and Q's! I had NO idea! Thanks for teaching me something too!

DL--I'd love to read it!

Heather--a kipper is a pickled herring. Sounds way cuter than pickled herring, though.

 
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