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shameless pleading

The proof is in the pudding.

The mousse did it.

Dear Word Detective: Where does the saying “the proof’s in the pudding” come from? My mom told me to look it up because she used it, but I can’t find anything about it except for people using it, nothing about what it means or where it came from! — Sammy.

Well, that’s because you’re probably using Google. Google is good for many things, but when what you want is the story behind something (as opposed to simply a sense of how many people are talking about it), it’s like trying to take a sip from a firehose. Next time you’re looking for a word or phrase origin, go to our website at www.word-detective.com and scroll down to the bottom of any page. There you’ll find a specially-configured Google search box that only searches reliable English etymology websites. Even if I haven’t covered the topic, you may find that someone else has.

I actually did cover “the proof is in the pudding” about eight years ago, but it’s a common question, so we’ll take it for another spin. “The proof is in the pudding” is a popular figure of speech meaning “the quality, effectiveness or truth of something can only be judged by putting it into action or to its intended use” (“So the proof is in the pudding: they made a big pronouncement on crime prevention, and now they have to follow through,” Edmonton Sun, 3/25/08).

At first glance, “the proof is in the pudding” seems thoroughly mysterious. What proof, in what pudding? Does this have anything to do with Colonel Mustard in the study with a candlestick? But the key to the mystery lies in the fact that “the proof is in the pudding” is actually a mangled form of the original phrase, which was “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” A dish may have been made from a good recipe with fresh ingredients and look delicious, but you can really only judge it by putting it in your mouth. The actual taste is the only true criterion of success.

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” is a very old phrase, dating back to at least 1605, 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 to check for errors, etc., before commencing a large print run).

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” remains a mystery, but it’s worth noting that most people now interpret “proof” in the sense of “conclusive evidence.” That’s probably just as well, since “the test is in the pudding” would make, if possible, even less sense. In any case, “the proof is in the pudding” is hardly the only English idiom that doesn’t make any sense if read literally, and it certainly serves a useful purpose, even if it does sound like a cryptic clue from a Sherlock Holmes story.

31 comments to The proof is in the pudding.

  • Thanks for the explanation and the original quote ” The Proof of Pudding is in the Eating” should be reintroduced and should be encouraged for use. The proof refers to the quality, the reliability of a material product like the pudding and it could be directly experienced by the simple act of eating and the taste sensation it imparts is like any other valid scientific observation, a simple experiment to establish the truth.

  • Thomas Bartlett

    Strangely enough, here in Ireland (and I assume the UK would be the same) the whole phrase is usually used. When it is shortened it’s shortened to “The proof of the pudding”. So I suspect the changed version of the phrase only evolved once it had reached American shores.

  • Dear Everyone,

    I find this proverb more motivative to my school children when they appear for their Annual Exams. It is the process of anything
    that makes one sucessful at the end of everything.

    Chidambaram Thanupillai.

  • I remember my “History of the English Language” professor telling our class the phrase, “The proof’s in the pudding” refers to testing the pudding readiness by chewing the pudding bag string. Thank you.

  • A. Levine

    I’ve always understood that this phrase to mean “pudding” in its modern English use: that is, what we in the States would call a cake. If the cake/pudding is not properly cooked (i.e, well thought out), then the proof or eating will reveal that to be the case, meaning it won’t taste good.

  • Adrien

    This is one of the first results when you google “the proof is in the pudding”. I think you might want to rewrite the beginning of this article.

  • Bob Block

    I think we can reduce the summarry to Get there how you may the end result is what counts.

  • Bob Block

    how would you write it Adrien?

  • Greg T

    I have written to journalists here in Australia correcting their use of the nonsensical contraction of the original saying. There is either no response or the claim that the short version is understood by all so don’t be so pedantic! We were taught the proper version at school in the 50′s/60′s but Aussie journos prefer the stupid lazy version.

  • Isla S.

    I ended my scholarship essay tonight with this, though modified to say the proof is -already- in the pudding. Maybe I should have said the pudding has already been eaten ;) j/k

    Your description was very helpful in affirming that I had the correct meaning. Thank you very much!

  • Dave A.

    I have a different opinion. When bakers place bread dough to rise on a shelf it is called “proofing.” I think a case could be made for “Proof is in the pudding” to reference placing the dough in a bread pudding or other bread based pudding to rise and coagulate the pudding with the dough.

    Thus the “Proof is in the Pudding” may mean that the dough is in the pudding and is the last stage of preparation before cooking. Therefore the proof being in the pudding suggests all the preparations are complete and ready to bake. Therefore the proof is in the pudding suggesting the last stage before before final baking.

  • I LIKE TO ADHERE TO THE ORIGINAL USAGE” THE PROOF OF THE PUDDING IS IN THE EATING” Easy to undrstand and memorise.

  • Even though the original meaning has been shown from the English, I think that there is also a possibly of its meaning coming from one who boasts of making the best plum pudding. Boasting aside, the real proof of its quality is in the eating(tasting). “you can say what you want, but I want to see the results”.

  • Rhea Buchanan

    Whether the words were somewhat changed once the phrase reached the States or not, the meaning is still the same. “Proof is in the pudding” means, the proof of a successful idea or philosophy for success is the FINAL successful results of that implemented idea or philosophy on any given situation, whether it be an implemented political, educational or family policy: Were the results successful or unsuccesful? Well, the proof is in the pudding!

  • Rhea Buchanan

    Also, I would be curious to know the age of the person who wrote this article!

  • Kris

    Are you sure that “proof” means “quality”? It could be that “proof” means “leaven”. Puddings haven’t always been a sweet dessert goo. They are sometimes bread-like or cake-like and baked or steamed, and would rise like a quick bread. “Proofing” means rising where baking is concerned, usually with yeast. So perhaps, “The proof is in the pudding” means that if the leaven is in there, and is working properly, the pudding will rise as it’s supposed to. That would explain the meaning as being “it’s self-evident”, rather than a truncated version of “you’ll see the quality by eating it”.

  • Steven Hunley

    I had a double confusion going with this on. I didn’t know there was a long version,and heard the short version many times. But in America, native speakers often don’t enuciate their Ts but rather make them sound like Ds. I.E. the word “latter” often comes out “ladder’. So pudding might be putting! That’s how it sounds. Either way it means the same thing, an idea has to be implimented successfully after it’s conceived to prove it’s validity.

  • Dick

    A spiritual thought on pudding proof might be reflected in the comparing spiritual truths with spiritual words conveying to the mind and heart of the reader the true thought of the inspired writer.The tasting comes from psalm 119 : 103 where He said sweet are thy words to my taste.

    Lost in His love… Dick

  • Martha

    I thought the phrase was originally part of a child’s book or poem.

  • Andre

    I`ve always thought it made more sense if the spelling of the word is with “T”s : “putting”, so as to say that the proof is in the putting of an idea or advice into practice, thus proving whether it works or not. Using “pudding” as an example seems a little silly and sophomoric to me.

  • Michael A

    Once and for all let’s take pudding off of the table. “The proof of the pudding is in the tasting” originated separately from “The proof is in the putting”. One can see where there may have been confusion with the similarly sounding words pudding and putting. And since “putting” is not a common term in contemporary lexicography, one’s thoughts go immediately to what you are familiar with, so everyone thinks they are hearing “pudding”. The actual phrase comes from the an archaic use of the word “put” which, in the 17th & 18th Centuries, meant “to test”. In this sense, to “put” something forward, meant to “test” it’s validity in public.

    “The proof sir, of your claim that my wife had carnal relations with your goat is in the putting forth of evidence that supports your ridiculous accusation”.

    Thus, the truth, or “proof” of something was considered valid only after the “putting” forth, or presenting of the evidence to support the claim. Thus, “the proof is in the putting”. Now, enough with the pudding…..

  • tim

    So, in many we idioms we just start them knowing the beholder will fill them out ie
    The proof of the pudding …
    Not unlike
    Don’t count your chickens… or a Bird in the hand…

    Just sayin’. Like you know?

  • Complete

    Tim may be correct as his post has clarity and plausibility. The term for the proof is in the Pudding is actually a term used by Five Percenters on the streets of Harlem. At one time it may have been the proof is in the putting, but in the 60s a man called Clarence 13X (Allah, or the Father) to his students (depending who you ask) had a nickname that was given to him by his mother. That name was Pudding. He would systematically challenge members of the Nation of Islam, Judges, Doctors, and ministers on various historic, scientific, and mathematical facts. He would prove his point in ways that would normally cause whoever he debated to agree with whatever the debate was about.

    His students used to say the proof is in the Pudding, meaning Pudding had the proof. I don’t expect anyone to know that unless they grew up in Harlem in the 60s. It is one of the many terms that have been added to the language by the 5 Percent. Including terms like word is bond, knowledge born, and even saying peace as a greeting.

    Just thought I would add on..

  • Complete

    I meant Michael A not Tim

    • Michael A

      To Complete,

      I think it is a pleasant coincidence that Clarence Smith is, thanks to his mother’s sweet nature, able to stake some claim to the “Proof is in the Pudding” argument, but the “putting” and “pudding” controversy rose up long before the 5 Percenters and the establishment of the NOI. It is nice that there is a contiguous coincidental thread, but I don’t think we should look to Clarence 13X or his mom for the contemporary use of this particular archaic term from the Middle Ages.

  • R.Kesavan.

    This ancient adage means that the quality of a certain thing could only be judged after due tests, verification and demonstration and should not be taken for granted. Like the taste of the soup we appreciate only after partaking it.

  • David Moss

    It’s origin lies in ignorance, like that other mangled phrase, “One foul (sic) swoop.”

  • David Rogers

    I can’t believe this raging debate wherever I find it and even more appalled at the commonly abbreviated version being used inappropriately when it is a comical version of the original, which for a time might have been a lazy version of the the traditional saying. My Grandfather, born early 20th Century, used to have a cheeky gleam in his eyes when he used the abbreviated version. The ‘proof’ is old slang for the whisky or brandy kept (usually in a locked cupboard or hidden by the matriarch of the family) – proof of course being the measure of strength of the liquor (ie 100 proof is about 50% alchohol). So in a decent pudding it would have a liberal dose of ‘proof’ if the chef wasn’t too stingy … hence the double entendre. What seems ridiculous to say is actually quite funny in a wry way. The continued ignorant use by journos though confuses the public. There’s surely better sayings appropriate for use today given that people care less about puddings more than ever given our knowledge of what healthier for us to eat in the first place.

  • Andrés

    How about if we see both as perfectly understandable versions even for us non native speakers with just a decent level of understanding and intuition of the language. Since the first one is completely self explanatory and thus a little boring and cliche, whereas the abbreviated version, although deemed as lazy, actually makes you think a little that if you want proof of whatever the metaphor is you need to go deeper and see the evidence which in this case is represented by the obvious need for tasting the pudding as a symbol of trying something out to see if it really is what people say it is.

  • Andrés

    The first version is completely self explanatory and thus a little boring and cliche, whereas the abbreviated version, although deemed as lazy, actually makes you think that if you want proof of anything, you need to go deeper and see the evidence, which in this case is represented by the need for tasting the pudding as a symbol of trying something out to see if it really is what people say it is.

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