One bad apple spoils the whole barrel.
Adages and idioms are odd things. A saying can take on a life of its own and come to mean the opposite of what it says.
An over-ripe apple emits a musky gas called ethylene as it starts to rot. Other apples nearby absorb the ethylene, which speeds their ripening. They in turn give off ethylene as they spoil. The rot spreads.
Curiously, these days to blame a few bad apples for prisoner abuse or police violence or business corruption is to affirm the innocence of everyone else. Of course the proverb says just the opposite: Let a little rot slip through unhindered, and soon the whole bunch will be rotten to the core.
6/18/2020 08:45:24 am
I totally agree with you about the "Bad Apples".
6/19/2020 05:52:35 am
Rick, it occurred to me since writing this that, while we hear "just a few bad apples" about Abu Ghraib or bad policing, I don't recall ever hearing anyone attribute looting or property damage to "a few bad apples" in a crowd of otherwise peaceful protesters.
6/24/2020 11:25:28 am
We do pick and choose how we view and report reality, don't we??? Sometimes we need to look at where we might be the "bad apple" and work on improving the whole bushel starting with ourselves.
6/25/2020 07:02:28 am
Pat, a good and important thought. Even to be the bystander who doesn't intervene, or the group member who doesn't support accountability, can contribute to the rot. It's certain easier to see the rot (or the mote in the eye) in someone else than in oneself.
6/26/2020 03:45:20 pm
Thanks, Rebecca. Wonder what other common terms have changed meaning along the way.
Leave a Reply.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.