Posted by Bob on November 20, 2000
In Reply to: "The exception that proves the rule" posted by Erin on November 19, 2000
: : : : What kind of sense does "the exception that proves the rule" make?
: : : : Patty
: In terms of usage, you will often hear scientists use this phrase as a short-hand for the value of anomolies (exceptions) in overturning old paradigms (rules) and establishing new ones.
: Obviously this is not the origin of the phrase (the earlier poster is right about the origin, I think) but it is one usuage of it that may help you see what kind of sense it makes.
Let's be clear about this: an exception may indeed "prove" (that is, test) a rule... but it doesn't automatically mean it passes or fails the test. On some occasions, an exception will test, and then overthrow, the rule. On other occasions, an exception will test a rule, and still be regarded as an exception: the rule will, by and large, survive intact.