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rotten apple

A bad individual among many good ones, especially one that spoils the group. For example, The roommates are having problems with Edith—she's the one rotten apple of the bunch. This expression is a shortening of the proverb a rotten apple spoils the barrel, coming from a 14th-century Latin proverb translated as “The rotten apple injures its neighbors.” The allusion in this idiom is to the spread of mold or other diseases from one apple to the rest. In English the first recorded use was in Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanack (1736).

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The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.