Cherry picking

A quick Google search yields the following definitions:

Definition One

Cherry picking is the act of pointing at individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.

Definition Two

To pick out the best, or most desirable items from a list or group, especially to obtain some advantage or to present something in the best possible light

My Question:

  • Does the term cherry-picking necessarily imply that one is ignoring significant data?
  • Or does it merely imply that one is selecting the best items from a list or group?

3 Answers 3


Both definitions are correct.

OP's two specific questions clearly indicate that he's thinking in terms of examples having been "cherry-picked". In any statistical context, cherry-picking always has negative connotations, because it subverts the normal goal of accurate analysis.

In most commercial contexts, cherry-picking is also negative - complaining about inaccurate promotional material, or (competitors) "unfairly" concentrating on the best business opportunities.

But if we read that the government is cherry-picking start-up businesses to receive cheap funding, to help stimulate economic growth, most of us will assign positive connotations to the expression. We'd prefer to see the taxpayers' money given to businesses that are considered likely to succeed, rather than randomly distributed.

In short, negative connotations arise from the context, not the expression itself. But in practice most contexts are negative (in particular, "not-so-representative" examples in statistics/adverts).


Yes, I think it does. You are slanting or skewing the information you are choosing to present. I believe that cherry picking has a negative connotation. I don't think anyone would ever brag that he had cherry picked his data; your critics are most likely to point out that you have cherry picked your data.

  • Indeed, the expression usually does carry negative connotations, in statistics, and in sports (where cherry picker refers to one who hangs around the goal waiting for an easy opportunity to score, and is usually muttered contemptuously).
    – J.R.
    Jun 10, 2012 at 17:23
  • I agree with you on your point that nobody who had a good command of the English language would ever brag of cherry picking. Perhaps a similar phrase, but one with more positive connotations would be "hand select," "handpick," or "select by hand," but those just won't work in many contexts. I suppose a less idiomatic, all-purpose alternative to "cherry pick" would be "carefully choose." Someone with a larger vocabulary than mine could probably list some others, but for right now, that's the best alternative I could find.
    – Lisa Beck
    Oct 25, 2017 at 20:13

I feel that while “cherry-picking” denotes picking only the best from some set, it also therefore connotes not picking things that are not the best.

The OED entry for cherry-picking in this sense is:

  • 2. colloq. The action or process of selecting only the best or the most profitable items, opportunities, etc. Cf. cherry-pick v.
    • 1965 N.Y. Times Bk. Rev. 11 July 13 (advt.) The Great Discount Delusion‥reveals the gimmicks some discounters use—among them: phony price tickets, short weight,‥‘creaming and cherry-picking’, ‘baiting-and-switching’.
    • 1979 Business Week 12 Mar. 125/1 Guardian's cherry-picking of high-volume business can only carry you so far.
    • 1988 Austral. Financial Rev. 9 Mar. 12/4 The drive has included‥measures to stop former abuses such as cherry picking (looting superannuation lump sums for the benefit of few people).
    • 1994 Denver Post 6 Feb. ᴇ2/2 This provision would prevent the so-called ‘cherry-picking’ that‥high-paid lobbyists‥use to scare lawmakers.
    • 2000 Pensions Managem. Apr. 8/1 To prevent cherry-picking, stakeholder schemes cannot insist that contributions are paid in a certain way.


cherry-picking, n.
Third edition, September 2003; online version March 2012. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/260100; accessed 10 June 2012.

See what I mean about denotation versus connotation? Meanwhile, the referenced verb reads:

  • colloq.
    trans. To choose selectively (the most beneficial or profitable items, opportunities, etc.) from what is available. Also intr. Cf. earlier cherry-picker n. 3.

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