Proof

arlin at ac.dal.ca arlin at ac.dal.ca
Sat May 27 13:54:40 EST 1995


In article <3pq9o9$eu1 at newstand.syr.edu>, griffin at mailbox.syr.edu (David H. Griffin) writes:
> In article <D8t35q.HJp at zoo.toronto.edu>
> mes at zoo.toronto.edu (Mark Siddall) writes:
> 
>> I am afraid I am going to have to dissent on this.  Prove does not
>> mean test.  "Prove" in  any framework means "prove true".
> 
> This is the entire basis of the misconception. "Prove" for the
> scientist does not mean "prove true". It cannot as so elegantly
> explained in the remainder of the message. 
> 
> As Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary states:
> 
> proof:  vt "to make or take a proof or test"
> 
> prove:  vb "to test the quality of: try out . . . to try or ascertain
> by an experiment or standard"

Its true that the preferred definition given in dictionaries is "test".  
When we refer to a "proof-reader" or "proving ground" or when we say 
that "the exception proves the rule" or that "the proof of the pudding
is in the eating", we are using "prove" in the sense of "test" or "evaluate".

However, outside of idiomatic expressions, native speakers in North 
America are not very familiar with this meaning of "prove".  Maybe this 
is a British v. North-American thing.  I've never heard anyone say that 
they spent the afternoon at the car dealership, "proving" (testing, 
evaluating, examining the quality of) a sporty red Mazda.   

Other meanings of "prove" are well established and seem to be more 
common.  When a mathematician speaks of the "proof" of a theorem, 
this does not mean merely that the theorem has been scrutinized or 
evaluated or tested in some way-- in this usage, "proof" means "a 
demonstration of veracity" or "evidence establishing something as 
fact".  Another meaning of "prove" that is far more common than 
"test" is a synonymous with "demonstrate", as in prove/demonstrate 
the truth/falsity/guilt/innocence of someone/some-abstract-thing.  

Arlin
arlin at ac.dal.ca



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