rotten apple spoils the barrel

a rotten apple spoils the (whole) barrel

1. It only takes one bad person, thing, element, etc., to ruin the entire group, situation, project, etc. Refers to the fact that a rotting apple can cause other apples in close proximity to begin to rot as well. Primarily heard in US. A: "It used to be considered the top research facility in the region, but after one of its researchers was discovered to have plagiarized a number of his papers, the whole department's reputation has been dragged through the mud." B: "Well, a rotten apple spoils the barrel." I really loved my job, but there was this one jerk there who made life miserable for everyone. One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, unfortunately. A: "Jeremy is such a brat. He won't listen to a word I say, and he gets the other kids all riled up too!" B: "Well, you know what they say—a rotten apple spoils the whole barrel."
2. proverb The criminal, unethical, corrupt, or otherwise negative behavior of a single person will spread to other people around them. Ever since that crook took over as CEO, the company has been backsliding into shadier and shadier business arrangements. A rotten apple really does spoil the barrel. A: "Is it any wonder? When corrupt liars take office, suddenly everyone who benefits from them starts to believe—and spread—their lies to maintain the status quo." B: "It's true, then, that a rotten apple spoils the whole barrel." Well, a rotten apple spoils the whole barrel, right? So why give the job to a shifty character like Michael?
See also: apple, barrel, rotten, spoil
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2022 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

rotten apple spoils the barrel

Prov. A bad person influences everyone he or she comes into contact with, making them bad too. Helen is the rotten apple that spoils the barrel in our office. Everyone sees her come in late to work and take long coffee breaks, and they think, "Why can't I do the same?"
See also: apple, barrel, rotten, spoil
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.

rotten apple spoils the barrel, a

One bad individual can spoil an entire group. The idea was stated as long ago as the fourteenth century (in a Latin proverb sometimes translated as “the rotten apple injures its neighbors”), long before the mechanism of spreading mold or other plant disease was understood. Benjamin Franklin repeated the sentiment in Poor Richard’s Almanack (1736): “The rotten apple spoils his companion.”
See also: apple, rotten, spoil
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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