Monday, October 12, 2015
Is the Proof in the Pudding?
The other day I heard someone say, “The proof is in the pudding.” I think what was meant was something like “we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out.” I learned the phrase as The proof of the pudding is in the eating, meaning “the quality of anything can be tested only by putting it to its intended use.”
A similar saying dates back at least to the 14th century, when a poem called King Alisaunder contained the line “It is ywrite that euery thing Hym self sheweth in the tastyng.” In 1605 it showed up pretty much in its present form in William Camden’s Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britaine as “All the proof of a pudding is in the eating.”
The shorter form—the proof is in the pudding, which doesn't really mean much of anything—dates from the 1920s, the jazz age when everything was shorter.
The pudding in question was not a sweet dessert but more likely a savory meat concoction, like a sausage, which before the age of refrigeration might very well require some taste-testing before it was heartily consumed. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a medieval pudding as the stomach or one of the entrails of a pig, sheep, or other animal, stuffed with a mixture of minced meat, suet, oatmeal, seasoning, etc., and boiled. If not “proved,” that is tested, before eating, such a dish might well produce severe gastric consequences.
The Bard of Buffalo Bayou often suffers severe gastric consequences, but not so much from questionable sausage as from the highly dubious cheap Chardonnay that he favors in absurdly large quantities. The following no doubt was conceived during such an attack:
An attractive young lady from Groton
Ate some pudding that tasted quite rotten.
It made her turn green
And do something obscene—
(And the last line I’m afraid I’ve forgotten.)