Gild the lily / Exception proves the rule

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8 comments on this post.
  1. Mark Priest:

    Hello, regarding ‘the exception proves the rule’, your explantion makes a lot of sense. However, I had always thought ‘prove’ in the phrase was in the sense of ‘test’, as in ‘proving ground’, ‘proof copy’ etc. What are your thoughts?
    Mark Priest

  2. Bruce Welmers:

    When you examine a proposed rule (as in a new theorem in math) one way to find out if it is true is to look for an exception. If you find one the rule is false. This is using an exception to test the rule. That’s the old meaning of the word ‘prove’. Still used in the form of the ‘proof’ of alcohol. The modern translation of the old statement is “The exception disproves the rule.”

  3. rwer:

    yeah ~
    really cool

  4. Kim:

    Bruce and Mark, if you substitute “test” for “proves,” it does save the meaning, and bring the phrase’s common usage into line with its 2nd meaning (look up Fowler), but you only need to do that at all because the phrase has been so often completely misused as nonsense (Fowler, #5)

  5. Paul:

    “The exception which proves the rule” continues to baffle me. I’ve heard so many explanations that I’m convinced no one really knows. I am most satisfied with the explanation that says the proper meaning is that something is such an exception to the history of a certain matter that it actually proves (tests or contests) the validity of the rule itself. Or put a slightly different way: the exception tests the reliability of the rule.

    Although I would value your comment, I don’t think it will change my mind. My understanding of it makes more sense than any other and certainly more sense than the phrase does when it is used today in its purely nonsense application.

  6. Angel F Santos:

    I am learning your language. So, I am sorry about my far-from-perfection English.
    I always understood this idiom means:
    The existence of an exceptin proves the existence of a rule.

  7. Debra Sherman:

    As with many truths, opposite interpretations are, apparently, equally valid. Gotta love life!

  8. Kat Koppett:

    As I believe Angel is noting above, I always thought “The exception that proves the rule” stemmed from the phrase, “There’s an exception to every rule.” Therefore, because we have identified the exceptions, this can be a rule.

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