The Origin Of 'Proof Is In The Pudding'

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In a commentary this week on Morning Edition, Frank Deford said the "proof is in the pudding." A listener wrote in to say that keeping proof in a pudding would be messy. The original proverb is: The proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food to know whether it was good.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have a correction of sorts, though it's also a story of how language evolves. We're following up on a phrase in a commentary by the sportswriter Frank Deford.

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FRANK DEFORD: Maybe it still stings the purists that Richard's contrarian ways worked. The proof is in the pudding.

INSKEEP: The proof is in the pudding, he said. Tim Lowe wrote us all the way from Santiago de Cali, Colombia, and he writes the following: Frank, the proof is not in the pudding. It would be a messy, if not completely silly place to keep it. With that in mind, we called Ben Zimmer, language columnist at the Boston Globe.

BEN ZIMMER: Well, the proof is in the pudding is a new twist on a very old proverb. The original version is the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And what it meant was that you had to try out food in order to know whether it was good.

INSKEEP: Zimmer adds that the word pudding itself has changed. In Britain, dating back centuries, pudding meant more than a sweet dessert.

ZIMMER: Back then, pudding referred to a kind of sausage, filling the intestines of some animal with minced meat and other things - something you probably want to try out carefully since that kind of food could be rather treacherous.

INSKEEP: OK. So, over the years, the original proverb has evolved. The original was the proof of the pudding is in the eating. It was shortened to the proof of the pudding, and then here in America, it morphed again to the proof is in the pudding. Apparently, the proof of the listening is in the correcting.

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INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

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