"The exception proves the rule."(Phrase Origins)
The common misconception (which you will find in several books, including the _Dictionary of Misinformation_) is that "proves" in this phrase means "tests". That is *not* the case, although "proof" *does* mean "test" in such locutions as "proving ground", "proofreader", "proof spirit", and "The proof of the pudding is in the eating." As MEU says, "the original legal sense" of the "the exception proves the rule" is as follows: "'Special leave is given for men to be out of barracks tonight till 11.0 p.m.'; 'The exception proves the rule' means that this special leave implies a rule requiring men, except when an exception is made, to be in earlier. The value of this in interpreting statutes is plain." MEU2 adds: "'A rule is not proved by exceptions unless the exceptions themselves lead one to infer a rule' (Lord Atkin). The formula in full is _exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis_." [That's Latin for "The exception proves the rule in cases not excepted."] The phrase seems to date from the 17th century. (Anthony Cree, in _Cree's Dictionary of Latin Quotations_ (Newbury, 1978) says that the phrase comes from classical Latin, which it defines as Latin spoken before A.D. 400; but no classical citations have come to our attention.) Below are the five seventeenth-century citations that we could find. 1, 3, and 4 are in the OED; 2 is in _Latin for Lawyers_ by E. Hilton Jackson and Herbert Broom; 5 is in _A Dictionary of the Proverbs in England in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries_, by Morris Palmer Tilley. 1. 1617 Samuel Collins, _Epphata to F.T.; or, the Defence of the Bishop of Elie concerning his answer to Cardinall Ballarmine's Apologie_ 100: "Indefinites are equivalent to universalls especially where one exception being made, it is plaine that all others are thereby cut off, according to the rule Exceptio figit regulam in non exceptis." [Note that _figit_ rather than _probat_ is here used. _Probo_ can mean any of "give official approval to", "put to the test", or "demonstrate the verity of"; but _figo_ can only mean "fix", "fasten", or "establish".] 2. _The reports of Sir Edvvard Coke, Kt., late Lord Chief-Justice of England_ (1658 edition; Sir Edward Coke died in 1634): "[...] upon which Award of the Exigent, his Administrators brought a Writ of Error; and it was adjudged, That the Writ of Error did lie, and the reason was, Because that by the Awarding of the Exigent, his Goods and Chattels were forfeited, and of such Awards which tend _ad tale grave damnum_ of the party, a Writ of Error lieth, although the Principal Judgment was never given; in this case, _Exceptio probat regulam_, & _sic de similibus_." ["A writ of error lieth" = "an appeal is admissible"; "exigent" = writ of suspension of civil rights; _ad tale grave damnum_ = "to such great loss"; _sic de similibus_ = "thus about similar things".] 3. 1640 Gilbert Watts, _Bacon's Advancement and proficience of learning_ VIII. iii. Aph. 17: "As exception strengthens the force of a Law in Cases not excepted, so enumeration weakens it in Cases not enumerated." [So when Lewis Carroll wrote "I am fond of children (except boys)", he affirmed his fondness for girls more strongly than he would have had he written merely "I am fond of children."] 4. 1664 John Wilson, _The Cheats_, To Reader: "For if I have shown the odd practices of two vain persons pretending to be what they are not, I think I have sufficiently justified the brave man even by this reason, that the exception proves the rule." [The OED (but not the other books I checked) gives the date as 1662. As far as I can tell from this scant context, Wilson seems to be saying, "My description of two cowardly cheats should serve to show you the bad consequences of not being brave, and hence convince you of the need for a rule: 'Be brave!'."] 5. 1666 Giovanni Torriano, _Piazza universale di proverbi italiani, or A Common Place of Italian Proverbs_ I, p. 80 "The exception gives Authority to the Rule." note 28, p. 242 "And the Latin says again, Exceptio probat Regulam." To convince us that *in this particular phrase* "proves" originally meant "tests", you will have to produce citations as old as or older than these to support your view.
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