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Apple in barrel

Posted by R. Berg on June 16, 2004

In Reply to: Proverbs posted by Bruce Kahl on June 15, 2004

: : A commonly used cliche refers to "one bad (or rotten) apple in a barrel".

: : It is currently often used to imply that an observed fault is exceptional.

: : I believe that this is wrong, and that the original idea is that a single bad apple can cause the rest to go rotten and should therefore be removed immediately on discovery.

: : I would like to know whether I am right about this or, if not, what the real meaning is.

: : I would also like to know the whole wording of the saying and its origin.
: You are correct in that a single bad apple could cause the rest to spoil and the bad apple should be removed or quarantined ASAP.

The traditional version is "One bad apple spoils the whole barrel." It means that one bad member can corrupt a group. I'm not familiar with the "exceptional fault" interpretation you describe; this must have resulted from a misunderstanding of the proverb.