Bad apple

Bad apple is an idiom that is taken from a proverb. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom bad apple, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A bad apple is a criminal, a corrupt person, or a malcontent. Sometimes referred to as a rotten apple, a bad apple is a negative person who might infect those around him with his bad influence. The term bad apple or rotten apple comes from a proverb: one bad apple (or rotten apple) spoils the whole barrel. A proverb is a short, common saying or phrase that particularly gives advice or shares a universal truth, or imparts wisdom. The earliest known version of the proverb one bad apple spoils the whole barrel may be found in The Cook’s Tale, in the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: “About an old proverb, the words that say: ‘A rotten apple’s better thrown away Before it spoils the barrel.’ ” This passage shows that the expression was well known before Chaucer’s time. Today, the expression bad apple may refer to a person who should be quarantined before he influences those around him, or it may be used to describe an anomaly, a corrupt person who is found in a group of generally upright individuals.


Those less-than-charitable organizations—like the one bad apple that spoils the entire barrel—create suspicion and rumors about charity operations that are doing right by donors. (The Marysville Globe)

“We have seen that one bad apple can really, really destroy stuff,” said Ivie, who served through Graves’ last two years in office. (The Salt Lake Tribune)

To find out how “bad apple” officers affected their colleagues’ behavior, Quispe-Torreblanca and Stewart pored through the personnel files of 35,924 officers and staff, of whom nearly 15,000 had at least one complaint lodged against them.  (Science Magazine)

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