Ubiquitous oxymoron in journal articles and the English vernacular

September 20, 2009 at 12:03 am | | help me, nerd

How many times have you heard someone refer to the “biggest bottleneck” in some process? I’d guess at least once a week if you’re an engineer. Now think about that for a moment.  Biggest bottleneck?  Exactly how much flow does a BIG bottleneck suppress? I didn’t have this epiphany until I typed “smallest bottleneck” in my dissertation.  But “biggest bottleneck” wins over “smallest bottleneck” by an 84:1 margin according to Google.  It is not rigorously an oxymoron, however, because there could literally be a series of bottlenecks and one could be the biggest (i.e., largest bore diameter), but the manner in which the term is commonly used suggests a contradictory role between the adjective and noun. I guess it’s like people saying “I could care less” when they mean “I couldn’t care less.” Am I crazy or does this bother anyone else?  “Accuracy above all else,” I say.


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  1. I hate it when people say, “I could care less”. It makes me want to quote The Princess Bride at them, “I do not think that means what you think it means.” So yes, I agree with you.

    Comment by Katie — September 20, 2009 #

  2. People who say that annoy me to no end. That, and “irregardless”.

    Comment by Loïc — September 20, 2009 #

  3. The second definition of big is “of major concern, importance, gravity.”

    Comment by kendall — September 20, 2009 #

  4. It’s an *open secret* that oxymorons such as these are *extremely average* and are of the *same difference* to people, at least in their *objective opinion.*

    Comment by jordan — September 21, 2009 #

  5. Hating “I could care less”

    Perhaps it’s time to learn about sarcasm.

    Comment by Tom — September 23, 2009 #

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