How did the term “The Proof is in the Pudding” come about?

“The proof is in the pudding” appears thoroughly enigmatic at first sight. What proof, in what pudding? Does this have anything to do with a candlestick in the study of Colonel Mustard?

But the secret to the mystery lies in the fact that “the proof is in the pudding” is simply a mangled version of the original expression, which was “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A dish may have been made with fresh ingredients from a good recipe and look delicious, but only by putting it in your mouth can you really judge it. The only real criterion of success is the actual taste.

“A very old term, dating back to at least 1605, is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and “proof” in the adage is an antiquated use of the word in the sense of “test” (also found in “printer’s proof,” a preliminary “test” copy of a book printed before beginning a large print run to search for errors, etc.).

This one was originally intended very literally, as is always the case for idioms. The earliest known written reference to the term, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Proverbs, comes from the 1623 volume Remains Concerning Britain by the English antiquarian William Camden; and similar maxims (though not necessarily pudding-specific) date back to the 1300s.

Pudding wasn’t the gloopy dessert that Americans eat today during those centuries, it was a hodge-podge of minced meat, spices, cereal, and occasionally blood, all packed and steamed or boiled into a sausage-like animal casing. There was always a risk that a meat dish might sicken or even destroy you because preservative procedures were primitive and food regulatory bodies did not function. As Merriam-Webster states, sadly, the only way to find out if it was dangerous was to dig in.

Pudding wasn’t the gloopy dessert that Americans eat today during those centuries, it was a hodge-podge of minced meat, spices, cereal, and occasionally blood, all packed and steamed or boiled into a sausage-like animal casing. There was always a risk that a meat dish might sicken or even destroy you because preservative procedures were primitive and food regulatory bodies did not function. As Merriam-Webster states, sadly, the only way to find out if it was dangerous was to dig in.

It remains a mystery just how and why “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” was shortened to the semi-nonsensical “the proof is in the pudding” but it is worth noting that most people now understand “proof” in the sense of “conclusive proof.” It’s probably just as well, because “the test is in the pudding” would make even less sense, if possible. In any event,’ the proof is in the pudding’ is not the only English idiom that, if read literally, does not make any sense, and it definitely serves a useful purpose, even if it sounds like a mysterious hint from a story about Sherlock Holmes.

Check out my related post: What is the tradition of red packets?


Interesting reads:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/words-at-play/origin-of-the-proof-is-in-the-pudding-meaning

https://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/origin-the-proof-is-in-the-pudding

https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/proof-of-the-pudding.html

http://www.word-detective.com/2008/12/the-proof-is-in-the-pudding/

https://www.mentalfloss.com/article/635112/proof-is-in-the-pudding-origin

https://www.npr.org/2012/08/24/159975466/corrections-and-comments-to-stories

https://qz.com/811624/the-proof-is-in-the-pudding-five-common-english-sayings-you-might-be-misusing/

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