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Terminators: Wordplays for Ideas & Insights

The Burden of Proof

March 31, 1997

Proof, prove, proven and probable are powerful ideas connected with science.

The "burden of proof" comes from the Latin phrase onus probandi.

Probandi comes from the Lating verb probare meaning "to test, approve, prove" from probus meaning "good, honest."

For experimental scientists and engineers, the connotation of "to prove" is "to test."

Try substituting the word "test" when you hear or see the word "prove."

"How do you prove that?" becomes "How do you test that?"

"The exception proves the rule" becomes "The exception tests the rule."

Here are words rooted in probare:

  • proof (evidence)
  • proof (as in proofread)
  • proof (as in 80 proof)
  • disproof
  • prove
  • proving grounds
  • disprove (to prove to be false or wrong)
  • probe (to examine or test in great detail; or a tool used for such tests)
  • probable (to be testable, or to be likely)
  • probably
  • probability
  • probate
  • probation

Some words that are similar but that do not originate with probare:
improve
profit
problem

Notice that in going from ancient to classical to modern languages, occasionally there is a shift in spelling (and possibly in pronunciation) from p or b to v to f. This string of probare words is a good example.

Another is pater -- vater -- father.

Sources: Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary Tenth Edition; Chambers Murray Latin-English Dictionary by Sir William Smith and Sir John Lockwood.


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