The exception doesn’t prove the rule — it disproves it
today at 1:07 pm
If I hear “the exception that proves the rule” one more time, I just might scream, so I decided to write this instead.
I still remember the time when my dad asked me about that expression and what Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have written about it in a Sherlock Holmes story. (Thanks and kudos to my friend and reader,
Aquinas Wired, for his recent comment that there is something in Holmes for all aspects of life. This comment reminded me of the connection Dad made.)
Dad was having a similar difficult time with the logic of the usual American expression, “the expression that proves the rule,” when he remembered that I was re- reading Holmes stories at the time. So he asked me about the expression.
I soon found the source in the novel “The Sign of Four.”
In that story, one of the four longer ones Doyle wrote, Holmes is telling Watson “not to allow your judgment to be biased by personal qualities.”
After a paragraph of convincing evidence, Watson says, “In this case, however –“
” ‘I never make exceptions. An exception disproves the rule.’ “
This earned a note in my handwriting in “The Annotated Sherlock Holmes,” the great omnibus edition edited and annotated by William S. Baring-Gould. The note reads “YES! Rediscovered by Dad, May 2004.” (A note in the front confirms that Dad gave me the book on May 7 of that year.)
There are useable rules with exceptions, such as “i before e except after c,” but I’ve seen mentions of beige neighbors’ sleighs that make that rule a bit shaky.
I don’t know how the saying about exceptions was corrupted, but maybe someone who didn’t have the advantage of our recent discussion of dis- words in a previous post didn’t hear it properly.
So if you see a big exception, it could be a turning point, it could be a change — but if it’s big enough, it could be the exception that disproves the rule.
It could even be the straw that broke the camel’s back… but that’s a story for another time.