Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Feb 2 17:43:13 UTC 2000

On Wed, 2 Feb 2000, Dennis R. Preston wrote:

> language as well. I think Gerald would agree that the writing first items
> he cites are simply exceptions which prove (but do not tarnish) the rule.
> dInIs (who threw in the old-timey use of "prove" just to startle you)

As if to prove my point about the prevalence of etymological
misinformation, Dennis is here subscribing to the common but erroneous
explanation of the phrase "the exception proves the rule."  Many people
will strongly maintain that this phrase uses "proves" in an old sense of
"tests."  In fact, the meaning of the phrase is that "by specifying the
cases excepted, one strengthens the hold of the rule over all cases not
excepted" (Bryan Garner).

Fred R. Shapiro                             Coeditor (with Jane Garry)
Associate Librarian for Public Services     TRIAL AND ERROR: AN OXFORD
  and Lecturer in Legal Research            ANTHOLOGY OF LEGAL STORIES
Yale Law School                             Oxford University Press, 1998
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               ISBN 0-19-509547-2

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