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Postby Dr. Goodword » Sun Aug 26, 2012 11:09 pm

• ruse •

Pronunciation: ruz • Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. (Hunting) The doubling back or other clever turn of an animal to elude the dogs. 2. A trick, pretense, dodge, shifty action, a stratagem intended to mislead.

Notes: Today's Good Word is a lexical orphan, without derivatives. You may use it as a verb, but that is rarely done. Since it looks like the verb use and sounds like use, its spelling presents no problems.

In Play: English farmers of centuries past often dragged red (smoked) herrings on a string around and away from their fields during hunting season as a ruse to (mis)lead the dogs and horses behind them away from their crops. Hunters called this "faulting the dogs", since the odor of the herring overpowered that of the fox or other prey. That is the origin of the English expression red herring, a misleading question or issue that diverts the discussion away from its focus. Today, ruse still implies leading someone or something astray: "Grant's claim that he gave at the office is just a ruse to keep fund-raisers at bay."

Word History: Today's Good Word has come a long way. English borrowed it from Old French ruser "to drive back". This verb devolved from Latin recusare "to reject", a verb itself a reduction of earlier re- "back" + causari "to give as a reason" from causa "purpose, reason". (Only the S of causa remains in ruse.) Although evidence abounds as to how causa went on to enter other words, coming to English as accuse, recuse, and others, its own origin remains a mystery.
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Postby MTC » Mon Aug 27, 2012 1:06 pm

Very interesting to learn about the word "ruse" which I had never previously connected to "red herring," perhaps one of the most colorful idoms in the English language and certainly one of the smelliest.

At the risk of dragging another red herring round the field I thought my fellow posters would appreciate Wikipedia's take on the origin of the expression:

The idiomatic sense of "red herring" has, until very recently,[2] been thought to originate from a supposed technique of training young scent hounds.[2] There are variations of the story, but according to one version, the pungent red herring would be dragged along a trail until a puppy learned to follow the scent.[3] Later, when the dog was being trained to follow the faint odour of a fox or a badger, the trainer would drag a red herring (whose strong scent confuses the animal) perpendicular to the animal's trail to confuse the dog.[4] The dog would eventually learn to follow the original scent rather than the stronger scent. An alternate etymology points to escaping convicts who would use the pungent fish to throw off hounds in pursuit.[5]

In reality, the technique was probably never used to train hounds[6] or help desperate criminals. The idiom probably originates from an article published 14 February 1807 by radical journalist William Cobbett in his polemical Political Register.[2][7] In a critique of the English press, which had mistakenly reported Napoleon's defeat, Cobbett recounted that he had once used a red herring to deflect hounds in pursuit of a hare, adding "It was a mere transitory effect of the political red-herring; for, on the Saturday, the scent became as cold as a stone."[2] As British etymologist Michael Quinion says, "This story, and [Cobbett's] extended repetition of it in 1833, was enough to get the figurative sense of red herring into the minds of his readers, unfortunately also with the false idea that it came from some real practice of huntsmen."[2]

Although Cobbett most famously proposed it, he was not the first to consider red herring for scenting hounds; an earlier reference to this hunting practice occurs in the pamphlet "Nashe's Lenten Stuffe" published in 1599 by the Elizabethan writer Thomas Nashe, in which he says "Next, to draw on hounds to a scent, to a red herring skin there is nothing comparable."[8] The Oxford English Dictionary makes no connection with Nashe's quote and the figurative meaning of red herring, only in the sense of a hunting practice.[1]

Whether Wikipedia is correct I do not know, but I do know tracking down the origin of idioms always proves exciting. "The chase is afoot Watson!"
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Postby Perry Lassiter » Mon Aug 27, 2012 3:51 pm

Sounds a bit fishy to me. BTW, why RED herring?
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Re: RED herring

Postby rbeard » Mon Aug 27, 2012 9:11 pm

Herring turn red when you smoke them over a willow fire. I don't know why willow was preferred, perhaps because red is a pleasant color.


Postby Perry Lassiter » Tue Aug 28, 2012 2:49 pm

But surely, one would not smoke or cook them before dragging them across a trail. Wouldn't that greatly diminish the scent?
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Postby Philip Hudson » Tue Aug 28, 2012 6:09 pm

Perry, my Manx ancestors ate skeddan jiarg (literally red herring), Manx for kipper. Then they saturated England with it. I have been offered this amazing breakfast feast on many occasions. The smell has always made me turn it down. I have ancestors from the Isle of Mann and they surely ate red herring, but it doesn't go in a redneck diet. I can imagine using one to cover the tracks of a fugitive or to confuse dogs on a foxhunt.
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Postby bamaboy56 » Wed Aug 29, 2012 4:26 pm

Hmmm, never eaten a herring (red or otherwise). Like P.Hudson it probably wouldn't fit well in a redneck diet. Catfish probably would, though I wouldn't want to drag smoked catfish through the woods. On another note, I have dragged cover scents through the woods (usually deer urine scents) in an effort to attract deer to my stand. It's a common tactic here in L.A. (Lower Alabama), as I'm sure in other places. Very intested to see where the term "red herring" came from and its association with the word "ruse". I've used "ruse" often and am glad to see it here in discussion.
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