OED Appeals: "rotten apple in every barrel"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Tue Sep 16 15:22:48 UTC 2008

At 10:19 AM -0400 9/16/08, Charles Doyle wrote:
>Thanks for this information, Larry. I'd never heard/noticed this
>"negative" version of the older, more familiar proverb. It's an
>example of what one paremiologist (Doyle) has termed
>"counter-proverbs": outright, explicit rebuttals of established
>proverbs (not to be confused with what Wolfgang Mieder has called
>"anti-proverbs," which are parodies or other ironic adaptations or
>applications of proverbs). A counter-proverb may occur as an ad-hoc
>sententia, or it may enter oral tradition as itself a proverb--as
>has evidently occurred with "One rotten (bad) apple doesn't spoil
>the whole barrel (bunch)."

Actually, I could never figure out which was the original version,
since I don't know enough about agricultural or botanical issues to
determine whether a rotten apple does or doesn't affect the others in
the same barrel or bag.  I suppose we can apply for funding and do
the study, controlling for different apple varieties and degrees of
rottenness.  The season is coming right up!


P.S.  Another issue with these proverbs is figuring out whether
they're intended as a direction or a warning.  We may have discussed
this before, but two classic examples are "a rolling stone gathers no
moss" and "it's all downhill from here".  Oh, also "it's an ill wind
that blows no good".

>---- Original message ----
>>Date: Tue, 16 Sep 2008 09:22:01 -0400
>>From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
>>Subject: Re: OED Appeals: "rotten apple in every barrel"
>>To support the second of the two versions I mention below, there
>>are 1530 raw g-hits for "[one] bad apple doesn't spoil..." (usual
>>continuations "the whole bunch", "the bunch", "the barrel"), and
>>then there are the "rotten apple" versions.  A lot more for the
>>positive counterparts, but the negative version isn't entirely
>The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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