The Proof is in the Pudding
Posted: 06 June 2007 03:01 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I ran into this little gem the other day.

To use an old proverb, “The proof is in the pudding.” This is really a shortened version of the even older proverb, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that “the proof is in the pudding” is a relatively new corruption of the original, but I’ve been wrong about such things before, as these pages have often demonstrated.  So, how old is the shorter expression?

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Posted: 06 June 2007 05:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Not so new, apparently.

Quinion says that it can be found in American newspapers at least as far back as the 1920s.

He goes on to say:

The principal trouble with the proof is in the pudding is that it makes no sense. What has happened is that writers half-remember the proverb as the proof of the pudding, which is also unintelligible unless you know the full form from which the tag was taken, and have modified it in various ways in unsuccessful attempts to turn it into something sensible.

They wouldn’t make this mistake if they knew two important facts. The full proverb is indeed the proof of the pudding is in the eating and proof has the sense of “test” (as it also has, or used to have, in phrases such as proving-ground and printer’s proof). The proverb literally says that you won’t know whether food has been cooked properly until you try it. Or, putting it figuratively, don’t assume that something is in order or believe what you are told, but judge the matter by testing it; it’s much the same philosophy as in seeing is believing and actions speak louder than words.

The proverb is ancient — it has been traced back to 1300 and was popularised by Cervantes in his Don Quixote of 1605. It’s sad that it has lasted so long, only to be corrupted in modern times.

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Posted: 06 June 2007 07:26 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I really don’t see much corruption here. I see a shorter version of the same thing. The meaning of the modern version is the same as the original and I’ve always understood that one must taste the pudding to know anything about it so the “in the eating” has just shifted from explicit to implied, in my view of this.

I can has viewpoint?

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Posted: 06 June 2007 07:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I have to admit that I thought Quinion was overplaying the difference. The shorter version makes perfect sense - the test is in the pudding. There’s nothing wrong with that.

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Posted: 06 June 2007 09:22 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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aldiboronti - 06 June 2007 05:26 AM

Quinion goes on to say:

...was popularised by Cervantes in his Don Quixote of 1605.

or was it a translator?

The whole “quote” is often given as: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating. By a small sample we may judge of the whole piece.”

Bartlett claims it’s in Part II Chapter XXIV (which wasn’t published until 1615, BTW).

If that citation is correct, the only part of that chapter that seems to me remotely like that is translated by Ormsby as:
But do not think that by praising these I am disparaging the others; all I
mean to say is that the penances of those of the present day do not
come up to the asceticism and austerity of former times; but it does
not follow from this that they are not all worthy; at least I think
them so;
and at the worst the hypocrite who pretends to be good does
less harm than the open sinner.”

The bold section in the original Spanish is:
pero no por esto dejan de ser todos buenos; a lo menos, yo por buenos los juzgo
which Babelfish (lamely) translates as:
but by this they do not stop being all good ones; at least, I by good judge them;

Any thoughts?

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Posted: 06 June 2007 10:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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From here:

The phrase is widely attributed to Cervantes’ in The History of Don Quixote. That appears to be by virtue of an early 18th century translation by Peter Motteux, which has been criticised by later scholars as ‘a loose paraphrase’ and ‘Franco-Cockney’. Crucially the Spanish word for pudding - ‘budín’, doesn’t appear in the original Spanish text.

The earliest text that there is supporting documentary evidence, albeit itself being a translation, this time from French to English’, is Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux’s Le Lutrin, 1682:

“The proof of th’ Pudding’s seen i’ th’ eating.”

As for the “corruption” of the proverb, I like the discussion at the Random House word site:

It is true that the shortened version, the proof is in the pudding, doesn’t mean much on its own, but proverbs often shift their meanings and their forms, so the shortening shouldn’t be regarded as that unusual. The shortened form is well attested; at Random House in the last ten years we’ve collected examples from a variety of sources, including The New York Times and a senator’s speech, as well as your example from an unquestionably distinguished writer [Ken Auletta].

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Posted: 06 June 2007 10:40 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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This page, while attempting to source another elusive proverb in Cervantes ("put all your eggs in one basket") throws some incidental light on our phrase.

Another example of Motteux playing fast and loose with proverbs was found by Gareth Penn: `the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ is attributed by some editions of Bartlett’s to Cervantes, but the phrase comes from the translation of `There will be laughter at the frying of the eggs’. That’s another interesting translation, but I’ll let Gareth set up his own web page on that topic.

The whole page is a fascinating read. It would seem that Peter Motteux took as many freedoms in translating Cervantes as he did when completing Thomas Urquhart’s translation of Rabelais. (I’d forgive them anything though, their Rabelais is such a delight to read, and, in a copiously annotated edition, as mine is, one can keep track of their alterations and additions).

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Posted: 07 June 2007 12:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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’The proof is in the pudding”.

I find it hard to see how anyone can make any sense of this utterly senseless statement. It does not stand up to even the most cursory examination. Proof of what? We don’t know, nobody told us.  And what pudding is this unidentified proof in? Black pudding? Bread pudding? Jack pudding? Any pudding? “The proof is in any pudding”. That still makes no sense at all.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, on the other hand, is a crystal-clear statement, requiring no elucidation whatever. It answers all questions about itself, where the truncated version answers none:

What pudding? Any pudding. “The pudding” is a generic pudding, as “the rattlesnake” (“the rattlesnake is a poisonous snake of the family Viperidae”) is a generic rattlesnake.  Proof of what? The proof (i.e. test) of the pudding, of course. Of any pudding.
What’s in the pudding? NOTHING is in the pudding, other than its ingredients!! The proof is in the eating of the pudding, not in the pudding itself. “The way to test a pudding is by eating it”. Show me the half-wit who doesn’t understand that (journalists and politicians don’t count).

Correction: In fairness, i can think of one set of circumstances in which “The proof is in the pudding” makes sense of a kind:

The time: Christmas.
The place: the Scratchit home.
The occasion: Christmas dinner.
The Scratchit family are seated round the table, finishing off the last of the great dish of numbles generously provided by their neighbour, the horse-knacker. Ma Scratchit is in the kitchen. On the table in front of her sits the Christmas pudding, huge, glistening, steaming. She opens a bottle of rectified spirits, and carefully pours a generous pint into a purpose-built crater in the top of the pudding; then, after taking a quick swig from the bottle, she ceremoniously ignites the thing with her candle, and carries it triumphantly to the dinner table, crying “The proof is in the pudding!”

http://www.sizes.com/units/proof_alcoholic.htm

(stumbles back to the cupboard with the bottles)

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Posted: 08 June 2007 02:33 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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The silver sixpence (or thruppence) used to be in the pudding! Do you put money (or charms) in your Christmas puddings in the US?

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Posted: 08 June 2007 04:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I hate to be the one to tell you this, but we don’t even have Christmas puddings in the U.S.

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Posted: 08 June 2007 06:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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You don’t? How strange, I’d have thought that would be one tradition that travelled. thinking about it though, did the Pilgrim Fathers celebrate Christmas? - probably not.

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Posted: 08 June 2007 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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How could they, with all the turkeys having already been eaten at Thanksgiving? And the Xmas pud probably sank, on the way across the Pond. They’re heavy things......

(A propos thruppence --- did you hear about the Scotsman who found a threepenny bit? ---- He introduced her to all his friends)

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Posted: 08 June 2007 06:57 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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The Pilgrims did not celebrate Christmas; in fact as I understand it they originally outlawed doing so.  See here for an interview with a historian discussing their reasons (among other things).

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Posted: 08 June 2007 08:46 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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@lionello - I enjoyed your rant. Descartes after several pints. :-)

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Posted: 09 June 2007 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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I’ve added it to the Big List.

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