A Red Herring
In common use in the English language meaning something deliberately misleading.
Why a herring to illustrate this? Never given it much thought until now. This meanings lost in time feature is uncovering lots of things: They aren’t red for a start and that seems to be an essential ingredient so I searched:
‘Your money or your life.’ Was a saying they minted in early eighteenth century England and the most famous highwayman was Dick Turpin.
A real person who plagued travellers in the days before trains. A folk hero now but probably not at the time. I can think of lots of other ways he might have been described, some of the adjectives used, no longer than four letters.
Apparently he always kept a smoked herring handy (red in colour) on the end of a long piece of string. I’ll get to that later.
On horseback of course and when he’d stopped the coach and loosed off one of his pistols to show that he meant business and to scare their pants off, he’d get one of the passengers to gather all the jewellery and coin, bank notes and any other valuables into one or two of his saddle bags.
Then he’d order them to take their clothes off. This was a very effective way of slowing down a pursuit and a trademark that attracted more of those four letter words I was telling you about.
Having chosen the heist location carefully he then rode off fast until he was well out of sight, took out his red herring and trailed it behind him.
Smoked, they are very aromatic, called kippers in the UK and dogs love stinky things as we all know – dog’s heaven might smell of red herrings.
Dick would then take that well used ruse of stepping the horse into a waterway, something like a stream (not too deep), to throw the dogs off the scent when the time came for law enforcement to track him down. They knew he had a hide-away in the forest somewhere.
Slippery Dick gave the bank of the stream a good smearing of kipper before trotting a hundred yards or so in the opposite direction to the one he intended to take (careful to stay in the water) before another smearing of fish on that bank and then hurling the fish into a dense thicket or some thorny scrub. Or some other no-go area for dogs – cliffs and marshland were good.
After all this attention to detail he’d double back and continue for a few hundred more yards, following the course of the stream before heading for his lair and a well earned rest. Smoke his pipe maybe before a fish dinner, followed by an alcoholic drink or two with his mates comparing robberies.
We’ll stay with horses next week for Meanings Lost in Time #5
Come back next Friday
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