How would people use "cherry-pick"?



I found an example using the word, "cherry-pick":

In this era of post-truth politics, it's easy to cherry-pick data and come to whatever conclusion you desire.

Is it a positive term? Is it idiomatical? How would people use it? Could I use it in conversation?


Posted 2017-01-31T18:21:14.507

Reputation: 763


Have you checked a dictionary yet? This definition seems good:

– snailplane – 2017-01-31T18:35:12.907

6I'd make a clear distinction between "cherry-picking" and picking the "low-hanging fruit" -- cherry picking connotes carefully picking the "sweetest" bits (the ones that support your case, for instance) while the "low-hanging" fruit is simply the easiest target. They are closer to antonyms than synonyms. Also, neither is inherently negative or positive -- cherry picking could be used in the context of sneakily finding only facts that work in your favor, or generously choosing the best items to give someone. Low hanging fruit simply refers to the easiest things, no matter how they're used. – A C – 2017-01-31T20:31:04.217

6I disagree with the close-votes here. Had the O.P. asked, "What does cherry-pick mean?" then I'd concur with the recommendation to seek a dictionary. However, this question does not ask about the meaning of the expression. Instead, it asks whether is used encouragingly or disparagingly, and whether it would be acceptable in conversation (or, presumably, stilted or obscure). These are fair questions for learners to ask, and dictionaries won't generally provide these answers. – J.R. – 2017-01-31T20:52:53.693

Duplicate! – moonwave99 – 2017-02-01T10:36:48.490

@moonwave99 Although your link references cherry picking, it does not answer any of the questions of this ELL poster. – Keeta - reinstate Monica – 2017-02-01T12:42:24.330

@Keeta it was a tongue-in-cheek reference to a question of another board : P – moonwave99 – 2017-02-01T16:27:55.797



In this context, "cherry-picking" is a very negative term. This meaning comes from statistical analysis. The term is idiomatic and informal. It is not as negative as accusing someone of lying, but it strongly implies that they do not care whether they mislead.

Suppose you are writing an article about a sports team. The team won its first game, lost its next three games, and won its last two games. Looking at the team's complete record, you could say, "The team wins about half its games."

But suppose you want to argue that the team is really good (or getting better). You could choose to look at just the last two games, and say, "The team is on a two game winning streak."

Or suppose you want to argue that the team is bad. You could choose to say, "The team lost three in a row."

Both of these are examples of "cherry-picking": There are a bunch of "facts" ("cherries") to choose from out of all of the facts ("on the tree"). Instead of doing the hard work of considering all the facts ("picking all the cherries on the tree"), you pick facts that tend to support your argument, and ignore the rest.

There are also less severe examples of cherry picking. Suppose you said "The team has won the last two-thirds of the games it played." This is still cherry-picking, but not as bad as in the previous examples.


Posted 2017-01-31T18:21:14.507

Reputation: 23 316

2You're wrong in what you imply about the "low hanging fruit". It means to select those examples which are easiest to retrieve, not those which are "best" (in this context, the best ones for supporting one's argument, which might not actually be easily found). I'm also deeply suspicious of the construction to win the last two-thirds of the games. It doesn't sound very valid to me (the meaning is certainly a bit obscure). – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica – 2017-01-31T19:31:42.500

3I disagree that "cherry-picking" is generally negative - if I'm harvesting fruit, (mmm... maybe cherries?) I want to pick only the fruit that is currently ripe. However, in the cited context it is indeed "a very negative term" – G. Ann - SonarSource Team – 2017-01-31T20:01:03.477

13@G.Ann-SonarSourceTeam In most contexts where I've seen it used -- things like politics and statistics -- it has a negative connotation. It can be used positively ("He cherry-picked the coolest things to give away"), but it's not used that way very often. The term itself is neutral; its most common usage is negative. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit – 2017-01-31T21:56:14.927

2Yeah, another negative context is in net sports (e.g. hockey) where a player deliberately doesn't play defense in anticipation of a puck popping out into the neutral zone for an easy offensive goal. The implication in this context is that you're doing something easy and cheap against the spirit of the game. – treeface – 2017-02-01T01:59:59.687


@treeface There's cherry picking in sports, auto repair, finance, military, movies, and construction. I think bringing up other uses would only confuse the OP rather than clarify the idiom as it relates to statistical data.

– Keeta - reinstate Monica – 2017-02-01T13:38:46.393


"Cherry-pick" is not really a positive term. A related idiom is "pick the low-hanging fruit." It means to pick out that (data, in your example) which is very easy to reach, and doesn't require much work to get at. I have heard it used to describe lots of activities, including basketball, i.e. "their center doesn't take long shots, he's just a cherry-picker." This means that he just picks up the rebounds and shoots the short shots. It can be used in conversation, but not as a compliment. You could, I suppose, use it sarcastically, about yourself, in the unlikely event that you wanted to brag about how little you are actually working.


Posted 2017-01-31T18:21:14.507

Reputation: 726

4I don't agree with this explanation. It's not "pick what is easy": it means "pick only the best". It is usually negative, because it implies an unfair approach to something. – Colin Fine – 2017-01-31T18:50:30.450


"Cherry-picking" is not equivalent to "low-hanging fruit", normally -- but the meaning is somewhat different in basketball.. Your answer is correct, but not in the context of OP's question.

– Andrew – 2017-01-31T19:02:34.507

My answer is based on idiomatic usage that I personally have heard over many years. Internet dictionaries, by nature, do not include all idiomatic usage. Forgive the word play, but you are simply cherry picking the definitions from easy to find online dictionaries. – Vekzhivi – 2017-02-01T13:36:14.250