🇫🇷🇫🇷🇫🇷 The One Big Happy strip from 5/28:

We all, from time to time, come across a word we haven’t experienced before (or didn’t register having experienced it), and just guess, often tacitly, at its approximate meaning as the world goes on around us. Little kids, having had much less linguistic experience, do this all the time; they pretty much have to.

To this end, they use similarities to words or parts of words they do know, and Ruthie is an especially analytic kid, keen on finding word-parts in unfamiliar material — plenty of examples in earlier OBH postings on this blog. In this case, the word is in fact straightforwardly analyzable into two familiar parts, and Ruthie gets that.

Oh, but what are those parts? Phonologically /pruf/ (a N spelled proof) and /rid/ (a BSE-form V spelled read).  No problem with the second, but there are several Ns proof; the compound proofread is an idiom with one of those Ns in it, but not the one that Ruthie detects.

Highlights from NOAD:

[idiomatic] verb proofread: [with object] read (written or printed material) and mark any errors: they must revise and proofread their work

noun proof: 1 [a] evidence or argument establishing or helping to establish a fact or the truth of a statement: you will be asked to give proof of your identity | this is not a proof for the existence of God. … 2 [a] Printing a trial impression of a page, taken from type or film and used for making corrections before final printing. …  3 the strength of distilled alcoholic liquor, relative to proof spirit taken as a standard of 100: [in combination]:  powerful 132-proof rum. ORIGIN Middle English preve, from Old French proeve, from late Latin proba, from Latin probare ‘to test, prove’.

The proof of proofread is 2a (‘testing’ proof ), and it’s a relatively rare noun tied to a specific technical domain of vocabulary. The proof of Ruthie’s proofread is 1a (‘proving’ proof); this proof is the much more common and everyday item, after all. So she thinks the compound means something like ‘read (something) for proof, (specifically) read writing from someone purporting to be its author for proof of authorship’ — a possible literal sense, but one not attested (the idiomatic sense trumps it). (There could also be a proofread ‘examine spirits to read (i.e., determine) their strength’.)

Testing vs. proving. The ambiguity of the Latin verb then persists in small corners of modern English, where  ‘testing’ proof and prove survive — as above, and in some idioms:

First, from Merriam-Webster online on the proof is in the pudding, the proof of the pudding, the proof of the pudding is in the eating / tasting:

Generally, the [idiomatic] expressions are used to say that the real worth, success, or effectiveness of something can only be determined by putting it to the test by trying or using it, appearances and promises aside — just as the best test of a pudding is to eat it.

Similarly in the idiom: exception that proves ‘tests’ the rule.


3 Responses to “proofreading”

  1. John Baker Says:

    Interesting. I had always supposed that the noun “proof,” a trial impression of a page, prepared for review before printing, was from the verb to proof/proofread, but it seems that that is incorrect.

    Are you confident that “proves” means “tests” in the idiom, “the exception proves the rule”? I had supposed it to be from the legal maxim, exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (the exception proves the rule in the cases not excepted).

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Thank you, John. Yes, apparently the intended sense of the legal maxim was not that exceptions prove the rule to me true (that would be nonsensical), *nor* that they test the truth of the rule, but that the existence of exceptions shows that the rules exists.

      I should have gone back and looked through the literature, but I’d been working on this little posting for two days (putting off much more substantial essays), in increasingly desperate brief moments stolen from medical crises and appointments, attempts to fix my Stanford computer connections (five hours on that today, entirely unsuccessfully), and sleeping exhausted for 11 hours (apparently from hypothyroidism, which I thought I’d fixed, but we’re working on it again), and barely able to use my hands (terrible flare-up in my arthritis; the description of yesterday’s X-rays of my hands is alarming — my poor joints!). See, you really don’t want to hear about my troubles, it’s all unpleasant whining. But I’ve been almost entirely prevented from doing my work and I feel deranged.

      I’m afraid that the sentence in the first paragraph of this comment will have to do as a correction of my inadequate posting.

      • John Baker Says:

        Inadequate? Hardly. Sprezzatura, I would say.

        I know that you would likely prefer comments that expand on your discussion of “proofread,” but you’ve already covered that well, or at least beyond my ability to contribute anything interesting. It’s in response to the casual comment thrown off at the end that I actually have something to say.

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