I’m often amazed at how far afield I can wander in my Internet quest for a specific bit of fact validation. With the advent of Google, one link leading to another and another and another, ad infinitum, I can spend hours gleaning random information that has nothing whatsoever to do with my original inquiry.

You’d think that would make me very popular with those who employ the “phone-a-friend” lifeline, but alas, most of my knowledge is frequently of the useless and trivial varieties.

Recently while working on a dinner theater script, I was curious as to the origination of the term “red herring,” as used in mystery fiction for diverting attention away from the real suspect with false clues and deceptive misdirection.

What I discovered is that there are 15 species of herring. They can be eaten smoked, creamed or pickled, but not a single one of them is red in their natural form. A kipper, which is a fish, and could be a herring, but not always, that has been strongly cured in brine and/or heavily smoked becomes quite pungent smelling and the flesh often turns red. This process dates back to the Middle Ages.

See what I mean? While interesting, none of this information actually helped me trace the term as used in literary and theatrical circles.

Not-to worry, last Saturday afternoon, while I was channel-surfing reruns, “Dr. Mallard,” also known as “Ducky” on the popular NCIS television show, quite nicely explained the whole history of the phrase so eloquently I had to laugh.

Last century, gluing oneself to “the boob tube” was considered a major waste of time. This century, the Internet gobbles up a vast number of hours of possible productivity. Which immediately made me wonder if a comparable slang (and similarly derogatory) term for the Internet has yet been coined.

After an hour or so, I hadn’t found exactly what I was looking for, but I did discover that the term “Internest” is a cocoon of blankets, pillows, and other comfy things you gather around yourself to keep warm whilst spending long amounts of time on the Internet.

I imagine you can eat all the red herrings you desire in a cozy place like that…