“The exception that proves the rule”

John Rentoul

tbl The exception that proves the ruleWelcome to the Banned List blog. Well, it’s just my blog at The Independent really, but the website has been set up to redirect to its “banned list” tagged items.

I have an article in The Independent on Sunday today about the book of The Banned List, which is now available for £8.99 or less, and the e-book will be available through Amazon from 1 November.

Meanwhile, I have just had to explain to a colleague why “The exception that proves the rule” is on the Banned List, but that it is not as stupid a saying as it seems.

In fact I was saved by my sub-editor, a job that was more important on this book than on some others, because of the subject material, from making an elementary error. She explained that it is the first part of an old legal maxim, which goes on: “… in cases not excepted”. As I say in the book, after she edited it:

It means that if a sign says “No entry on Thursdays” (the exception) it may be assumed that entry is permitted on other days (the rule).

Thus the setting out of the exception “proves” (in the old Scottish sense of the word) the rule. Neat, eh? Only no one ever uses it in that sense, they just use it as a nonsense way of brushing aside evidence that does not fit.

Who would not want to buy a book full of stuff like that?

Finally, if you want to nominate your suggestions for inclusion on the List, which the Committee will continue to compile, make them in the comments below or follow me on Twitter and use the hashtag #bannedlist.

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  • Whyshouldihavetoregister

    Also for banned list: practice of writing sentences without subjects, as quoted above. Am annoyed by it. Should not happen.

  • ARealJournalist

    Is it safe to assume that the one person who bothered to review this book on Amazon is either Mr Rentokill himself, under another name, or a friend or family member?

  • TarquinBroxted

    The Banned List, will it include news on the “Occupy London Stock Exchange”? Yesterday the Guardian, Torygraph and Times (paywall, which Sasha is bringing in here) all carried articles. 

  • Ursula Leahy

    Wardrobe malfunction.  Funny – perhaps even witty – the first time or two, and now stale, tired and lazy. 

  • Prani West

    Thankfully ”pushing the envelope’  and ‘thinking outside the box/square’  appear to have declined in popular (over)use.  The one that I hear a lot in the workplace is ’space’ – as in (for example) “I work in the insurance space’ – rather than ‘I work in insurance’

  • Kippers

    Also worth banning. Verbless sentences. Favoured by Mr A Blair.

    “The exception proves the rule” is an old phrase that would now be expressed as “The exception improves the rule”.

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