What is a Red Herring? Definition, Examples of Red Herrings in Literature

Red herring definition: A red herring is a rhetorical device that diverts attention from the topic-at-hand.

What is a Red Herring?

What does red herring mean? A red herring is a tool used in argument. The red herring fallacy causes a distraction in n argument that draws attention off-topic.

Because of this, a red herring is a type of logical fallacy. A red herring is a way for a speaker to win an argument by bringing up a matter that is irrelevant to the main issue.

Rough outline of a red herring:

  • Topic A is argued
  • Speaker brings up Topic B, irrelevant to Topic A
  • Topic A is either ignored or forgotten because Topic B takes precedence

Red Herrings vs. Other Logical Fallacies

Red herring fallacy definition A red herring is a type of informal logical fallacy. This is because there is no real logical outline to how a red herring creates a fallacy. A red herring may be introduced at any time during an argument to cause a distraction. It is a method a speaker uses to win an argument when in fact it has nothing to do with the topic.

A formal logical fallacy creates a false conclusion based on a flaw in a logical structure of the argument. Through deduction, a flaw occurs in a formal fallacy. Formal fallacies appear to be good arguments, but there is a flaw in the logic.

Some other informal fallacies include:

  • Ad hominem: an attack on character instead of on topic
  • Non-sequitur: the conclusion does not follow the premise
  • False dilemma: considering limited conclusions when more are possible
  • Straw man: responding to an argument that was not created by the opponent
  • Begging the question: assuming the conclusion

The Purpose of a Red Herring

Example of red herring argument A red herring is intended to be a distraction in an argument. A red herring draw’s the audience’s attention away from the subject.

The purpose of a red herring is to divert the attention of the audience and to cause confusion. A speaker may do this for several reasons:

  • He does not have enough evidence to support his argument.
  • He wants to showcase what he thinks is a flaw in his opponent.
  • He is playing off the emotions of his audience.

Speakers should know when they are using red herrings. Similarly, an audience should be able to identify a red herring. Red herrings are successful in convincing audiences of an argument because they are often more emotional in nature.

Red herrings should only be used in argument if the speaker is aware that he is distracting from his argument or if he feels it is the best way to win an argument. Other than that, red herrings should be avoided because they are not logically sound.

Red Herrings in Literature

red harring or red hearing or red hering or red heron or redherring  Red herring examples: Red herrings might occur in mystery or thriller novels. In this way, an author may present a character who seems “guilty.” This character is created as a “red herring” to create interest and to throw off the reader from the actual culprit.

Red herrings are most common in political speeches. This is because the speaker is trying to distract the audience from the subject and bring the audience “to his side.” Red herrings can be very successful in political speeches, even though they assume that the audience will not recognize the fallacy.

Red Herring in Popular Usage

  • In truth, currency manipulation has always been a red herring. Like other nations, U.S. policy influences currency levels through changes in interest rates and the money supply. –The Wall Street Journal
  • The attorney general claims to be promoting public safety with his decision, but this is nothing more than a red herring to push Herring’s anti-gun agenda. –The Washington Post

Summary: What are Red Herrings?

Define red herring: the definition of a red herring is a distracting tangent introduced into an argument that derails the discussion from its true subject.

In summary, a red herring is a type of logical fallacy that is meant to distract the audience. A red herring focuses on an argument off-topic instead of the subject matter.