As I was watching the snowy scene (yes, we broke our mega snow record and we are still having snow in May), I thought this seemed a good time to think of something gloomy, something that I didn't like.  Yuck!  Rats!  I just hope that we don't skip spring and head right into summer.      



I am trying to think of a phrase/idiom in English that closely matches this Chinese idiom. The closest I can think of is “give a bad name”

A Russian proverb “A spoonful of tar spoils a barrel of honey” seems to fit the description of this Chinese idiom. It means that even the smallest defect can cause huge damage. 



1)    Some soccer ball fans are giving all soccer ball fans a bad name for the riots that they caused in the recent Soccer Tournament.

2)    The 911 terrorists gave a bad name to all Muslims.

3)    Black people who do not want to go to work but prefer living on welfare and taking handouts for granted are giving a bad name to all the Black Americans, causing everyone to despise Blacks and discriminate against them.

4)    Two grocery store cashiers were found stealing customers’ credit card numbers. These two cashiers are like a spoonful of tar in a barrel of honey. Though the other cashiers were law-abiding citizens, nobody wants to buy grocery from that store anymore.


By the way, there is an English idiom with a slightly different meaning, but some people use it to mean 一粒老鼠屎,壞了一鍋


One rotten apple can spoil the (whole) barrel/bunch

What does this mean?

One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel because the spores spread the mold from one apple to another and then to all the apples around it in the barrel. Eventually, all the apples in the barrel will get rotten.


This applies to a person with bad characteristics who may influence others in the community he belongs to and cause others in the group to turn bad and do the same bad thing.


Bad Apple: A person who is bad and makes others bad as well.






1)    Since Joanna moved into this apartment, all the kids in the neighborhood who were once innocent and obedient are picking up her bad attitude and stopped respecting the elders. This is a classic example of how one rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel.

2)    Seeing how one Chinese dairy farm makes great profit by selling milk tainted with leather protein, the others are following suit. This is a typical case of one rotten apple spoils the whole bunch, as every dairy farm in China is now selling milk tainted with leather protein.

3)    KMT is corrupted just like a barrel of apples with the presence of a bad apple.


Written by Elisa English

On 5/3/13 in Minneapolis


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