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One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel

Posted by Smokey Stover on March 13, 2006

In Reply to: One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel posted by marie on March 13, 2006

: what is the origin of one rotten apple spoils the whole barrel

You can find a discussion by entering your phrase in the search box (top of previous page), or enter just "apple in barrel". The saying is a truism, so I'm not sure why you would look for any other origin. One rotten apple DOES spoil the whole barrel, eventually, because of mold spores invading the other apples. Sometimes an entire group, like the U.S. Congress, is corrupted, like a barrel of fruit, by the presence of one bad guy, or one "bad apple." There are a lot of other groups to which this dictum has been employed, such as individual police departments. It's an observed truth that one bad officer can eventually corrupt a whole department, beginning with the reluctance of other officers to rat him out. In a political body, it often works when one sleazy individual uses questionable means to gain an advantage, finds the loophole, perhaps. To fight back his opponents feel they must get down in the smelly barrel with the original bad apple, use his methods to survive. Our founding fathers were high-minded and principled idealists (Hamilton's adultery notwithstanding), and our first four presidents (U.S.A.) were very nearly above reproach. Then came the selling of offices and government by crony, and it has been a downhill race ever since.

You might be interested in Gresham's Law, "Bad money drives out good." This is almost always quoted in a financial context. However, it is valid figuratively in a variety of human contexts.