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What is the meaning of "Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water"?

Idiom 101: Throwing the Baby out with the Bath Water

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"Throwing the baby out with the bath water" is an idiomatic expression which means that the inessential part of a certain concept, idea or project is rejected together with its essential aspects.
The baby, in this sense, symbolizes the good part which can be retained. The bath water, however, which usually gets dirty after bathing the baby in it, is considered as the bad part of a concept that needs to be disposed or rejected.

The phrase originated in 1512, from a German writer named Thomas Murner. It was taken from his verse book, Die Narrenbeschworung, as it became commonly used in other countries such as the United Kingdom and France. In the 16th century, Europeans seldom took baths as they considered it to be unhealthy and difficult to prepare, for it had to be strained and heated. Because of this, preparing baths meant that the same water should be used for the entire family. The baby was often bathed last, and by this point, the water might be dirty enough to be thrown out.

Although throwing the baby out with the bath water isn’t likely to occur literally, the phrase has become an allusion to both sides of a certain practice or idea, which are, the good and the bad. Some people have the tendency to disregard everything and start over, which eventually gives way to the reverse idea of preserving the good parts while getting rid of the useless ones.

Using the phrase can be highly subjective, since people have varying views when it comes to the perception of good and bad things. For instance, one may be against human cloning, as he or she rejects the entire process and other related ideas. On the other hand, another person might be against it, but supports research into other types of cloning, and might say that rejecting the entire idea is like “throwing the baby out with the bath water. “ A related expression could be, “one bad apple spoils the bunch,” which expresses a rational fallacy. Just because something that belongs to a group is rotten, it doesn’t mean that the entire bunch should be rejected.

However, there are some cases wherein throwing the baby out with the bath water is necessary. For instance, some criminal justice systems disregard any evidence that could result from illegally obtained confessions or illegal searches. Considered as, the “fruit of the poisoned tree,” any evidence arising from a violation can no longer be used and is deemed to be tainted.

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