the exception proves the rule


the exception proves the rule
‘The very fact of an exception proves there must be a rule’ (Brewer); now frequently misunderstood and used to justify inconsistency. Cf. L. exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis, the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted.

1640 G. WATTS Bacon’s Advancement of Learning VIII. iii. Exception strengthens the force of a Law in Cases not excepted.

1664 J. WILSON Cheats A2v I think I have sufficiently justifi’d the Brave man, even by this Reason, That the Exception proves the Rule.

1765 S. JOHNSON Shakespeare Preface C2v There are a few passages which may pass for imitations, but so few that the exception only confirms the rule.

1863 W. S. GILBERT in Cornhill Mag. Dec. VIII. 727 As for the dictum about Temple Bar, why, the case of Poddle and Shaddery might be one of those very exceptions whose existence is necessary to the proof of every general rule.

1907 H. W. FOWLER Si Mihi 80 It is one of those cryptic sayings, like ‘The exception proves the rule’, which always puzzle me.

1994 ‘C. AIRD’ ‘Fair Cop’ in Injury Time (1995) 27 [H]ome was where most victims of murder met their end. This instance, he was prepared to concede, might just be the exception that proved the rule.


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  • Exception that proves the rule — The exception [that] proves the rule is a frequently confused English idiom. The original meaning of this idiom is that the presence of an exception establishes that a general rule exists. Fowler s Modern English Usage identifies five ways in… …   Wikipedia

  • the exception proves the rule — 1. The existence of an exception to a supposed rule proves the general truth of the rule (often used in argument when no such conclusion is justified) 2. A distorted translation of a part of a legal Latin phrase meaning ‘the making of an… …   Useful english dictionary

  • exception that proves the rule — This expression is used by many to indicate that an exception in some way confirms a rule. Others say that the exception tests the rule. In its original legal sense, it meant that a rule could sometimes be inferred from an exemption or exception …   The small dictionary of idiomes

  • the exception proves the rule — ► the exception proves the rule proverb the fact that some cases do not follow a rule proves that the rule applies in all other cases. Main Entry: ↑exception …   English terms dictionary

  • the exception proves the rule — (an exception to the rule) someone or smth which differs from the usual, the normal, or some principle, rule or theory …   Idioms and examples

  • exception that proves the rule — noun a) A form of argument in which the existence of a counterexample to a rule is used to demonstrate the fact that a rule exists. b) The rare occurrence of a counterexample to a rule, used to underscore that the rule exists …   Wiktionary

  • (the) exception that proves the rule — the exception that proves the ˈrule idiom (saying) people say that sth is the exception that proves the rule when they are stating sth that seems to be different from the normal situation, but they mean that the normal situation remains true in… …   Useful english dictionary

  • exception proves the rule, the —    A widely misunderstood expression. As a moments thought should confirm, it isn t possible for an exception to confirm a rule but then, that isnt the sense that was originally intended. Prove here is a fossil that is, a word or phrase that is… …   Dictionary of troublesome word

  • exception proves the rule — Something unusual that does not follow a rule tests that rule to see if it is true; if there are too many exceptions, the rule is no good. A proverb. * /Frank is very short but is a good basketball player. He is the exception that proves the rule …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • exception proves the rule — Something unusual that does not follow a rule tests that rule to see if it is true; if there are too many exceptions, the rule is no good. A proverb. * /Frank is very short but is a good basketball player. He is the exception that proves the rule …   Dictionary of American idioms


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