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The proof is in the pudding doesn't mean anything but it has slipped into common usage alongside the proof of the pudding is in the eating. This is not a Malapropisms or an eggcorn, its just a mistake. So what's it called?

Edit: This is not about this particular phrase, it is used as an example. My question is about the common phrases changing through use where each of the words is correct but the meaning of the original phrase is linguistically lost while the phrase is still understood because it's common. Other examples: "Killing the golden goose" rather than "killing the goose that lays the golden egg" "All mouth and no trousers" rather than "all mouth and trousers"

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – tchrist
    Jul 12, 2022 at 21:19

2 Answers 2

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I know this site is for linguistics aficionados, but I participate here because I find words and meanings fun. So please, nobody laugh at my feeble non-linguist attempt to answer this two-day-old question.

I found linguistic drift in Wikipedia:

drift is the unconscious change in natural language

I hope after reading the rest of the article you'll either be satisfied with this term, or will have been pointed to a better one.

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I would say the closest usage falls under an archaism. In particular, proverbs often fall under them because the phrase survives the natural language evolution. E.g.

Today me. Tomorrow thee.

That aside, language evolution is not the only cause of this. Changing demographics often has the same effect. For example, in medieval England phrases such as

Idle hands are the devil's tools.

And

Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

Were well known because the population was a part of the Christian church. As this changed in the next 600 or so years, many people will not know the origin or even the second part of the phrase and may just say

Speak of the devil...

Because the context is now missing and the short form is the most commonly heard form.

A fossil word is also related, but is more specific to literally obsolete words. E.g. spick as in

spick and span

Which is still a common phrase in former British colonies in the western hemisphere. Another example is flotsam and jetsam.

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  • It's one of the ways language changes. Our generation's catchphrases are not the ones our grandchildren use, and often they're misheard or improved from the original when they don't make sense any more. Jul 12, 2022 at 23:33
  • "Studiously avoiding someone's glance" used to have a different, fossilized adverb until even it vanished around 1960.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jul 13, 2022 at 1:32

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