The big list entry for “the proof of the pudding” notes that the aphorism “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” is often misrepresented as “the proof is in the pudding”. What is interesting to me is that I have heard far more human beings say the “wrong” version of the saying than the correct one. I have heard “the proof is in the pudding” throughout my life, and could not make sense of why the expression meant what it meant, but I could infer what it meant from the context. And, of course, the reason the wrong version doesn’t seem to make sense is that it doesn’t make any sense. However, the first time I heard anybody use the correct version of the saying was when I was in my late 20s, when a talk show host on a radio show explained the term (and it was clear, in context, that he had only recently learned what the correct version was himself, and that none of his co-hosts had ever heard the correct version of the phrase).
I attempted to do a little googling and other searching to see if there is anything to my intuitive sense that be wrong version is actually much more commonly uttered than the right one (since, of course, intuitive feelings about such things are notoriously unreliable). The results were kind of interesting. When I attempted a google books ngram search, I got zero hits (from 1800 to 2000) for “proof is in the pudding”, and many hits for “pudding is in the eating” (which seemed to peak, interestingly enough, in the 1940s to 1950s). However, when I did a google books search, with no date restrictions, I got 858 hits for the wrong version, and 884 hits for the correct one (and 74 hits for “the proof of the pudding’s in the eating). I checked a few, but by no means all, of the hits to make sure that they weren’t just meta data errors, and they don’t seem to be errors. I seriously doubt that the hits for “proof is in the pudding” were all in books published either before 1800 or after 2000, so I can’t think of a good way to reconcile the ngram vs. google book discrepancy aside from guessing that I messed something up when I did the ngram search.
Then I did a google search for “the proof is in the pudding” (in quotation marks, although I have no idea if that does anything or not) and there was an estimated 8,650,000 hits. The “proof of the pudding is in the eating” got an estimated 2,370,000 hits, as did “the proof of the pudding’s in the eating” (I am assuming that this means that google treats the latter two searches as identical, rather than it meaning that each version shows up exactly 2,370,000. So this seems to lend some, but by no means dispositive, credence to my intuition that the wrong version is employed more often than the correct one is, at least in informal usage.
It makes sense to me that the wrong version would show up in general google hits more often than the correct one, while the correct one would show up more often in google books, since the latter, at least in large part, were professionally edited.
Finally, I suspect, but have zero proof, that the “proof is in the pudding” version is much more common in the US than it is in any other part of the English speaking world.
I wonder: given how common “the proof is in the pudding” seems to be, can we not say, as silly and badly constructed as that form of the saying is, that it has become part of standard AmE usage? If so, is it really an “error”, or just an alternate (stupid) form of an older expression? Also, if my intuition that many, at least in the US, have not even heard of the correct version of the saying is true, is it really a “misrepresentation” of the aphorism? It is obviously, historically, a corruption of the aphorism, but once a corruption reaches a certain critical mass doesn’t it become standard usage in its own right?