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Origin: The Proof Is in the Pudding

"The proof is in the pudding" comes from a much older phrase. Also, "pudding" means different things in Britain and the United States.

By
Samantha Enslen, read by Mignon Fogarty,
March 8, 2018
Episode #611

Why we say the proof is in the pudding

Have you ever heard people say, “The proof is in the pudding?”

If so, they were feeling skeptical.

That’s because this expression is another way of saying, “Prove it!” or “I’ll believe it when I see it.” 

For example, if you promise your mom you’ll clean your room after school, she might say, “OK, but the proof is in the pudding.” She means that she appreciates your intention, but she’ll believe you only when she sees a clean bed and tidy floor.

This expression makes a lot more sense when you realize that today’s version—“the proof is in the pudding”—is a shortened version of a much older phrase—“the proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

In other words, you can’t tell if a pudding is any good by looking at it. You have to eat it. 

Results are what count. Not just appearances, promises, or theory.

This phrase first appeared in 1605 in a list titled “Certain Proverbs, Poems or Poesies, Epigrams, Rythms [sic], and Epitaphs of the English Nation in Former Times, and Some of this Present Age.” Based on this (long) title, we can tell that the phrase was well established by 1605, and probably long before that. 

There’s another “pudding” phrase in this list: “As fit as a pudding for a Friers [sic] mouth.” This phrase, now obsolete, means that something is appropriate, suitable, or welcome. Other versions are “fit as a fritter for a friar’s mouth,” and “fit as a pudding for a dog’s mouth.”

All of this is very interesting, but we still haven’t answered one important question. 

What is a pudding?

If you live in the United States, the answer is easy. It’s a dessert made by mixing sugar, egg yolks, milk, and butter, and boiling them gently until they thicken. The result is cold and creamy, served in a bowl, and eaten with a spoon. 

If you live in the United Kingdom, the answer is a bit more tricky though. “Pudding” can refer to any sweet dish served as a dessert. It can also mean a specific kind of dish that’s boiled or steamed, either in a basin, cloth—or piece of intestinal tract. 

It might be sweet, like Christmas pudding or sponge pudding.

Or it might be savory, like black pudding (made from animal blood mixed with fat and oatmeal), steak and kidney pudding (made with steak and kidneys), or haggis (made with animal lungs, liver, heart, and/or tongue, all stuffed into a sheep’s stomach).

Can that kind of concoction possibly taste good? I guess you won’t know until you try it. The proof, they say, is in the pudding.

Samantha Enslen runs Dragonfly Editorial. You can find her at dragonflyeditorial.com or @DragonflyEdit.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

"The proof is in the pudding" comes from a much older phrase.

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