[Ads-l] fool-proof and fail-proof

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Thu Aug 20 17:19:15 UTC 2015

OED has fool-proof from 1902.

OED does not have a fail-proof entry, but does include a quote under risk, n.:

2007   N.Y. Times 20 May (T: Style Mag.) 161/3   It [sc. the city of Cartagena] passes the 'staggering home drunk through predawn streets while bellowing Shakira' test, a fail-proof diagnostic of any locale's risk level.

Fail-proof seems to be increasing in use. E.g., a recent comment on the Iran nuclear plan: "I believe verification is a long way from fail proof."

Google Ngram shows a slight decrease for fool-proof in recent years.

An antedating for foolproof:

[AHN] Evening Star [Washington DC] 11-14-1895 p. 3 col. 1

[ad for a bicycle, apparently:]

..the '96 tire will be "foolproof." You CAN'T put it on wrong.

Stephen Goranson


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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