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Apple in barrel

Posted by Najunky on June 16, 2004

In Reply to: Apple in barrel posted by R. Berg on June 16, 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.

The "exceptional fault" interpretation seems to be widely used by spokespersons on US television talk shows. A cop or pol is accused of something and a spokesperson for the police department or the political party protests that to the affect that there will always be a "few bad apples" so don't pass judgment on the department or party (Who really should be vetting their persons.). There may be a difference between the "one bad apple" phrase and the "few bad apples" excuses.