Thursday, January 19, 2012

Word peeve: The proof is emphatically NOT in the pudding.

A long time ago (relatively speaking), the English language included a useful proverb about pudding. Let's take this proverb into the 21st Century, and go into any gelateria. You go in and look at all the gelato behind the glass panel, and you see one called "mascarpone". The description sounds pretty good, so you ask the clerk "Is it any good?" The clerk pulls out a tiny plastic spoon, scoops up a sample and lets you try it.


Because if she just tells you it's good, you'll have to take her word for it. The proof of whether mascarpone-flavored gelato is any good comes from actually tasting a sample.

In other words, "the proof of the gelato is in the tasting."

Now go back in time a century or more, into Jolly Olde England, and try the same experiment with a pudding vendor in the streets of London. You don't know whether the pudding is any good until you try it yourself. Hence, "The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

It's another way of saying "try before you buy". We use the concept when buying automobiles, home entertainment systems, tuxedos and fancy dresses.

But sometime in the end of the 20th Century, some ignorant mangler of the English language got it wrong, and said "The proof is in the pudding." And it stuck.

The proof OF WHAT is in the pudding? Did you stick raisins in it? Do you want me to go digging around in it with a spoon, looking for hidden treasure?

The proof of the quality of the pudding lies in the eating of it, not in its ingredients or in its mere existence.


martytardy said...

Ray, I found it very humorous that you've written blogs about the incorrect meaning behind phrases such as this: "the proof is in the pudding". Just funny, that's all. :-)

Anonymous said...

Years ago, the late William Safire's "On Language" column in the NY Times magazine included a discussion about that. (I saved it a long time but don't have it any more.) I think he said a good retort when hearing someone say "The proof is in the pudding" is to say "Sorry to hear that, but maybe you could still take it out and wipe the pudding off so we can take a look at it."

Anonymous said...

On a similar note, there's wide misuse of Yogi Berra's brilliant circular joke "It's Deja Vu, all over again". Newscasters, particularly, use it as a cute way to start telling about something (usually a misdeed) that just happens to be occurring too often.

I've also noticed other funny expressions being used superficially without appreciating where the fuller humor comes from: recognizing that the phrase originally implied something special happening that is plainly not happening at the moment. One example is the sarcastic comment "Easy for YOU to say!", usually spoken after another person verbally stumbles. It's true humor comes from remembering that it was originally a way to convey "You are not the one directly affected, so how can you comment?" Hearing it used merely to tease about how some words were LITERALLY not easy to say (pronounce), and nothing deeper, is why it's funny.

Another example is "We can't keep meeting like this", a movie cliche typically spoken in a workplace setting when you happen to cross paths with a co-worker more times in a day than expected. The true humorous angle is the phrase's implication that you both are meeting each time intentionally and that the purpose is to carry on a secret affair, despite the difficulty or sordidness of the tryst. However, these days it seems to be taken as just a simple observation that you happen to weirdly keep bumping into each other, ha-ha, and when will it stop.