Red Herring Argument


Red Herring Definition

Red herring is a kind of fallacy that is an irrelevant topic introduced in an argument to divert the attention of listeners or readers from the original issue. In literature, this fallacy is often used in detective or suspense novels to mislead readers or characters or to induce them to make false conclusions.

Let us consider a simple example of a red herring. A teacher catches a student cheating during a test. The student in response says, “I know I’ve made a mistake. But think of my parents. They’re going to kill me”. The student uses a red herring in his response. He tries to appeal to pity to distract his teacher from the real issue.

The term red herring means a kind of dried red fish, which has a pungent smell. In fox hunting, hounds are prevented from catching the fox by distracting them with the strong scent of red herring. Similarly, a person can be stopped from proving his point in an argument by distracting him with an irrelevant issue.