Proof is in the pudding
Posted: 04 January 2013 11:15 AM   [ Ignore ]
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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?

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Posted: 04 January 2013 11:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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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?

Yes.

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?

Yes.

I would remind everyone that idioms very frequently don’t make any apparent sense (e.g., “head over heels"); they may or may not have developed out of earlier variants that do make sense, but that’s irrelevant to their current status.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 11:44 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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That’s one that goes on the update list. I’ll probably change the wording to read something like “reanalyzed to become the nonsensical ‘proof is in the pudding.’”

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Posted: 04 January 2013 12:31 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t think “reanalyzed” is the word you want.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 12:35 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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FWIW, “the proof is in the pudding” isn’t nonsensical to me. I can easily interpret that to mean it’s one thing to have a recipe and quite another to actually make the pudding. It isn’t what you say you can do, it’s what you actually do, which fits both the meaning of the expression and how puddings come to be. I realize this isn’t where the expression came from, but given my ignorance of the history of the phrase, it still never seemed nonsensical to me.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 01:09 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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happydog - 04 January 2013 12:35 PM

FWIW, “the proof is in the pudding” isn’t nonsensical to me....

What happydog said^^^. I have often heard both versions, though it was my ignorance of the origin of the full phrase that allowed me to easily drop the “eating” part and imagine each version meant the same thing. And they do. As languagehat said:

languagehat - 04 January 2013 11:28 AM

...I would remind everyone that idioms very frequently don’t make any apparent sense (e.g., “head over heels"); they may or may not have developed out of earlier variants that do make sense, but that’s irrelevant to their current status.

I found the following links to be of interest:

books?id=56YbAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA333&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U1R8YN_9fS6hHt5pteFlbeShW9p9g&ci=57,407,843,174&edge=0

[image link p. 319]

books?id=56YbAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA319&img=1&zoom=3&hl=en&sig=ACfU3U2-qvOhlwP9bM4KZ5YeA-ode-UsEg&ci=57,447,751,110&edge=0

[image link p. 333]

From: Remains concerning Britain: their languages, names, surnames, allusions ... by William Camden, 1674.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 02:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I would remind everyone that idioms very frequently don’t make any apparent sense (e.g., “head over heels"); they may or may not have developed out of earlier variants that do make sense, but that’s irrelevant to their current status.

Cf. ‘have your cake and eat it’, which makes no sense at all, unlike the earliest recorded version, “wolde you bothe eate your cake, and have your cake?”, in John Heywood’s 1546 “A dialogue Conteinyng the Nomber in Effect of All the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue”.

FWIW: maybe I don’t listen to the right kind of people, but I’ve never knowingly heard anyone on the right of the pond say ‘’the proof is in the pudding”. I think (till somebody corrects me) that that’s a Leftpondian version.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 02:59 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I suspect that “the proof is in the pudding” is mostly, if not exclusively, an AmE usage: I hinted at this in the OP, but also acknowledged that I didn’t have any real evidence that that is true. 

As to the cake expression, the version I’ve always heard is “to have your cake and eat it, too.” Which sort of, but not completely, makes sense: the “too” suggests that one wants to eat the cake and still have it (after having eaten it).  But that seems like a lot of weight to drape on “too“‘s shoulders.  FWIW, I find it interesting that, even in the original version, the speaker doesn’t come right out and say that the bearer of the cake wants to still have it after eating it: this is something that has to be inferred, although it seems significantly easier to infer it from the original version of the expression than from the newer variants.

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Posted: 04 January 2013 07:46 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Not many people know that the “proof” referred to here is a coin produced in order to test a die. These are also produced in significant runs now and sold to collectors, perversely for higher prices than the face value. It was traditional in England to include thrupence or sixpence in a Christmas pudding: it was considered to mean good luck in the year ahead for the finder. Regular households just used ordinary circulated coins but fancy aristocrats could afford to use a proof, so “proof is in the pudding” indicates that the finder will have a very lucky year indeed.

How was that?

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Posted: 05 January 2013 04:32 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Congratulations, OP, that’s as neat a cod-etymology as I’ve ever heard. Right up there with this one:

Old coins had to treated very carefully so as not to harm them. To clean a coin expertly was called “frazing”. The coin had to be immersed in a liquid named “pease”, then it was bathed in another liquid known as “kyuse”. It was essential to get the order of these two baths correct Hence: “Be sure to mind your pease and kyuse”—to fraze a coin.

http://www.goodwords.com/sayings/

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Posted: 05 January 2013 04:50 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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OP Tipping - 04 January 2013 07:46 PM

Not many people know that ...”

My favorite way of introducing a totally bogus statement without actually lying.

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Posted: 05 January 2013 07:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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“Be sure to mind your pease and kyuse”—to fraze a coin.

ROFL

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