exception that proves the rule

The exception that proves the rule: this may very well be the most misused and misconstrued aphorism in existence. It is seemingly false on its face; an exception disproves rather than proves a rule. Where does the phrase come from and why do we say it?

The origins are in Latin legal maxim, exceptio probat regulam in casibus non exceptis (the exception confirms the rule in cases not excepted). In other words, the fact that an exception exists means that a general rule also exists, e.g., if you see a sign that says “No Parking on Sundays,” you have legal protection in assuming that parking is permitted the other six days. English use of the Latin proverb dates to at least 1640 when Gilbert Watts penned the following in his Bacon’s Advancement and Proficience of Learning:

As exception strengthens the force of a Law in Cases not excepted, so enumeration weakens it in Cases not enumerated.

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