This is the full read-only archive of the "Ask the Wordwizard" section of the original Wordwizard site. The responses to the questions originate from Jonathon Green, the compiler of the Cassell Dictionary of Slang and numerous other dictionaries.
The phrase, meaning a subject intended to divert attention from the real question, comes from the country practice, now discontinued (?), of providing a run for hounds by the trailing or dragging of a dead cat, or fox, and if nothing better is available a red herring, three or four miles and then setting the dogs on the scent.ACCESS_POST_ACTIONS
Signature: Jonathon Green