Sayings, proverbs, adages, idioms—they have a taken-for-granted quality about them, your wisdom and utility packaged in a tidy bundle that words ready for united state to drop into our sundry communication needs. But have you ever stopped to consider them—I mean, yes, really looked in ~ them up close? They’re an extremely strange.

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Take paint the town red, an expression for boisterous partying. What walk red paint have to do with rambunctious fun? The resource of the saying is much disputed, however it’s popular refrained the in 1837, a roguish Marquis that Waterford led a riotous spree v the English city of Melton Mowbray, literally paint several of its structures red (it to be lit, apparently). The saying, however, wasn’t first printed till 1883 and in the U.S. In ~ that, leave this expression fragile to a hold of other vibrant origin stories.

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Such etymological obscurity no uncommon as soon as it pertains to idiomatic language, whose root imagination is shed to time even as the phrases prove their value in our day-to-day speech and also writing. Nor is the terribly rare for us to warp an expression over time—sometimes also capsizing that is original meaning altogether.

Like the devil’s in the details, supplied to emphasize the importance of the nitty-gritty, often hidden or overlooked, aspects of a project. Yet this saying, not shown until 1963, actually originates from a German proverb. That advised the it’s in reality God who is in the singular detail.

Let’s have a look in ~ some various other such sayings whose devilish—or divine, i mean—details we haven’t quite heeded end time.

“The evidence is in the pudding.”

Need proof? that in the pudding. “Dieting is hard, however if friend stick come it, the proof is in the pudding,” we can say. Or, “He’s a poor person. Look in ~ his words. Look in ~ his actions. The evidence is in the pudding.”

By proof, here, we usually average “evidence” or “verification,” however what is this pudding? A bowl of tapioca—or chocolate, if you prefer? and also why room we seeking confirmation in it?

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There’s an excellent reason the saying doesn’t make much sense, together often and also freely together we could use it. It’s since the proof wasn’t initially in the pudding. It was in the eating of claimed pudding. And also what’s more, neither proof nor pudding originally expected what we commonly take them to today.

The Oxford dictionary of Proverbs traces the original expression, the evidence of the pudding is in the eating, come an earlier formulation date to as early on as 1300: “Jt is ywrite that euery thing Hymself sheweth in the tastyng,” or “It is created that everything shows itself in tasting.” We have the right to thank English author William Camden because that the modern iteration in 1623: “All the proofe the a pudding, is in the eating.”

For Camden, proof was “the plot of testing or making trial,” as the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) glosses this certain sense the the word. That dates ago to the 14th century and indeed is carefully related come proof in the “truth”-y way we greatly use the today. The expression to put to the proof, or “test,” conservation this meaning.

And the pudding Camden was testing couldn’t it is in whipped increase from a crate of Jell-O instant mix. That was an ext like a sausage, historically the entrails the a pig or a sheep stuffed through some oats and also such. This sense resides on in black pudding, also known together blood sausage. Appetizing? maybe mortally so. Think if those innards weren’t cooked every the means through—something you i will not ~ know, though, till you tried it out by biting into it. It is the proof of the pudding.

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As eminent etymologist Michael Quinion placed it: “The proverb literally claims that friend won’t recognize whether food has been cooked appropriately until you shot it. Or, putting it figuratively, don’t assume that something is in stimulate or think what you are told, but judge the matter by testing it.”

Over the centuries, in the eating fell from Camden’s original phrase; we can get lazy together speakers. Its staying words were jumbled approximately into the evidence is in the pudding (we can likewise get very messy); Quinion find this formulation in American newspapers by the 1920s. The definition of proof evolved, and also pudding—especially because that American-English speakers, who generally use pudding because that the sweet version—lost every savory associations. A new saying emerged.

“The exemption proves the rule.”

The native proof, or that is verb form, prove, can gain us right into trouble in an additional common saying: the exemption proves the rule, which we prefer to issue in the challenge of some counterexample or difficulty to our standard wisdom.

Say you always—predictably—eat tapioca pudding. Then, top top a whim, you gain chocolate. Your dining companion calls you out on your surprise order, come which girlfriend rejoin with a shrug: “Well, the exception proves the rule,” sweeping away your very own inconsistencies.

Think around that. No, no your inexplicable appetite for pudding, or the reality that you’re in reality ordering it in ~ a restaurant because that dessert. How is the your an option of cacao (the exception) proves the dominion (you’re constantly spooning under tapioca)? it does something but. The exemption contradicts it.

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The logical failure behind the exception proves the rule stems indigenous a lexical breakdown. One common effort to ideal the phrase centers top top prove, which, together we previously saw, had an earlier definition of “to test.” the an exemption to a rule, this explanation goes, the tests the validity of that rule in the an initial place. If you have the right to make feeling of the exception, the ascendancy is upheld.

Still no satisfied? Nor space logicians. Or lexicographers. This maxim ultimately originates from a Latin legal principle, discovered in English through the 17th century: exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, or “the exemption confirms the ascendancy in the cases not excepted.” Exception (exceptio) below is “the act of exception,” i.e., make an exception, together opposed come a “violation” or “anomaly.”

Let’s say her favorite restaurant has an asterisk ~ above the menu: “No pudding served on Mondays.” That means pudding is offered on all various other days. There’s an exemption (no pudding on Mondays) the otherwise confirms a dominion exists the otherwise to apologize (they offer pudding).

Except on Mondays.

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Linguist Arika Okrent takes, er, exemption to sticklers who urge we’ve completely corrupted the initial Latin phrase. Having lost part of the maxim (“in the cases not excepted”) has surely morphed the meaning, but Okrent says that we now use the exception proves the rule to to mark just just how unusual, exactly how incongruous, the exception at hand is. It begs the question: who actually eats coco pudding, anyways?

“That begs the question…”

Begs the question—there’s an additional phrase that numerous take exception to. I used it above, as many use it, to median “raises the question.” Others use it because that “evades the question.” and also yet the phrase has actually lots that grammar scolds frowning and also tsktsk-ing together they with for your red pens.

As writer and also editor Stan Carey explains, beg the question was traditionally a reasonable fallacy referred to as petitio principii, essentially circular thinking or suspect the conclusion. Exhibit: Tapioca is the ideal pudding due to the fact that it is everyone’s favorite flavor.

The rest got lost in translation. Linguist note Liberman notes the beg the question begins v Aristotle, who debated various reasonable fallacies in his On Sophistical Refutations roughly 350 B.C. Among them is what is much better translated together “assuming the initial conclusion” in the original Greek. In the center Ages, the fallacy to be rendered as petitio principii, i beg your pardon we could understand together “the start of the argument” in its initial post-classical Latin context. Then, as beforehand as 1581, English writers began writing petitio principii in their vernacular, v this beg as soon as denoting “request” and question a “topic” under discussion. To beg the question, then, to be to assert the an extremely thing in argument.

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Semantic drift: This advert to just how the definition of words, ever before unstable as they jostle approximately in our mouths and off our fingers, adjust over time, periodically dramatically. Nice, for instance, originally meant “foolish” or “ignorant.” Pudding and prove are other relevant examples at hand.

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Outside that a couple of instances in scholarly contexts, no one is making use of beg the question in its traditional philosophical sense. And also yet usage peeves and also style guides wail of its misuse—they even bemoan that such abuses are damaging the English language. Semantic drift likewise explains why this, ahem, aggravates us. Carey writes:

“Semantic drift bothers world for plenty of reasons. One is that when they learn, say, the older feeling of decimate or hopefully, they’ll want to use that knowledge. So they come to be pedantic around it. Info that contradicts that produces cognitive dissonance, therefore they’ll disapprove or trivialize such information. If they consult a dictionary and find that the an interpretation doesn’t match their preference, they’ll overlook the professionals (while somehow claiming the ‘logical’ high ground). If they often tend towards ego trips and also petty strength plays, they may be drawn to language usage as a way to look down on rather or even to berate them in public.”

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That sayings prefer beg the question evolve end time, among many other develops of change, no a defect of our language. It’s part of its very DNA. But, together Carey acknowledges to us, the “idea the absolutely every little thing in language is subject to adjust is unsettling” to numerous people. That takes a mindful effort to accept how radically and relentlessly language changes—but a language without this function is a dead or unused one.

“A rolling stone gathers no moss.”

A drift in semantics helps account for the shifting sense of beg the question, yet a change in values might be behind the change in a rolling rock gathers no moss.

And change is undoubtedly the key word come this adage. We commonly use a rolling stone gathers no moss as an expression for “changing things up is good” or “people who store things relocating are independent, free-spirited, ambitious, and also creative.” Rolling we associate through activity; moss v stagnation.

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But the initial an interpretation wasn’t so positive. Together the OED defines it, the proverb—found in the current kind as early as 1542, and with previously versions reaching back into the 14th century—originally conveyed the “a person who does not resolve in one place will not accumulate wealth, status, friends…” Here, a rolling stone connotes an aimless, perhaps even irresponsible wanderer; moss, the fruit of one’s labor.

Words, however, never gather moss. They’re constantly rolling, and so it’s possibly unsurprising that the proverbial rolling stone morphed its meaning. Must we say thanks to British rockers The rojo Stones, that took their name from a Muddy Waters tune, or Bob Dylan’s very own era-defining “Like a rolling Stone”?

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We can’t dominance out together resonances, but it appears that the accumulations and profits the the proverb’s initial intent gathered the an adverse associations of encumbrances and burdens. And as a culture, possibly we’ve come to embrace adjust and distinction as virtues, not vices. Variety is the spice the life, together they say.

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.”

Of course, there space plenty the folks that still use a rolling stone gathers no moss in its classic sense. Probably they even use it in its more recent manner, too. That’d be like, well, having her cake and also it eating, too.

Or eat your cake and also have the too, together this proverb is an initial formulated. The Oxford dictionary of Proverbs first finds that in john Heywood’s 1546 collection of English proverbs (also an early record that rolling stone): “Wolde ye bothe eate her cake, and haue her cake?” the is, “Would friend both eat your cake and have your cake?”

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“The point of the aphorism,” lexicographer Ben Zimmer writes, “is that sometimes you have to make a selection between two options that cannot be reconciled.” This point, the observes, deserve to be much easier to know in the original, eat/have order of the proverb.

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According to Zimmer’s expert sleuthing, the have/eat flip occurs as early on as 1749. He suggests that by then, the proverb may have already become cliched, opened it as much as language beat or famous confusion. The wasn’t until 1940—due to inert or accident, together so frequently drives or crashes language—that the more recent sequence overtook the eat/have version.