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exception proves the rule, the

An instance that does not obey a rule shows that the rule exists. For example, John's much shorter than average but excels at basketball—the exception proves the rule. This seemingly paradoxical phrase is the converse of the older idea that every rule has an exception. [ Mid-1600s ]
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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