Writing for Business

May 15 2013   1:20PM GMT

Oxymorons that don’t hold up to even cursory scrutiny

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?

interrobang A cursory ________ of the document was enough to reveal that the discrepancy in amounts resulted from an accounting error rather than fraud.
a. review
b. scrutiny

Answer: a

Scrutiny means close examination and cursory means hasty and inattentive, so you can’t really have a cursory scrutiny. That doesn’t keep people from trying, though.  A quick Google search yields 23,800 hits for “cursory scrutiny.”

Cursory scrutiny is an oxymoron — a term made up of two contradictory words, like open secret, jumbo shrimp  and unbiased opinion.  I had a little look around to see if anyone had reported it as an oxymoron, but all the results I found were in references to other oxymorons. For example:

Having made my way through the article, though, I found myself started by this rather baffling conclusion:

Finally, the only other conclusion one can draw is that “European civilization” is an oxymoron. These horrors, Nazi and Communist, all arose out of European ideas, political and philosophical, being put into practice. Even the Cambodian genocide had its genesis in the cafes of Paris where Pol Pot got his ideas. Hitler got his ideas in the cafes of Vienna.

I don’t think that this holds up under even cursory scrutiny.  Read more

Here’s another:

The very name of this subdivision, the Miranda Canyon Preserve Subdivision, is an oxymoron that insults our intelligence. Even a cursory scrutiny of the proposal shows bad planning, bad engineering and very bad science. Read more

So these examples are people talking about oxymorons and cursory scrutiny but not aware that the former is an example of the latter. There should be a word for it.

Thanks to @Guy_in_PEI for the idea.
twitter-bird-callout  Follow me on Twitter@tao_of_grammar

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