The devil is in the details

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"The devil is in the details" is an idiom alluding to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details:[1] something might seem simple at a first look but will take more time and effort to complete than expected.[2] It comes from the earlier phrase "God is in the details", expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; that is, details are important.[1]

Origin[edit]

The idiom "Devil is in the details" has been attributed to a number of people, most notably to the German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) by The New York Times in Mies's 1969 obituary; however, it is generally accepted not to have originated with him. The expression also appears to have been a favorite of German art historian Aby Warburg (1866–1929), though Warburg's biographer, E. H. Gombrich, is likewise uncertain if it originated with Warburg. An earlier form, "Le bon Dieu est dans le détail" ("the good Lord is in the detail") is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880).[1] Bartlett's Familiar Quotations lists the saying's author as anonymous.[3] The phrase is attested in 1965;[4] in 1969, it is referred to as an existing proverb.[5]

Variants[edit]

The phrase has several variants: (The/A) Devil (is) in the Detail(s). The original expression as, "God is in the detail" with the "detail" being singular, colloquial usage often ends the idiom as "details"; where the word "detail" without an "s" can be used as both a singular and collective noun.[6] When referring to the finer points of legislation, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi observed, "The devil and the angels are in the details."[7]

More recently, the expressions "Governing (is) in the Detail(s)" and "(The) Truth (is) in the Detail(s)" have appeared.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Titelman, Gregory, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Random House Reference, March 5, 1996
  2. ^ http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/the-devil-is-in-the-detail
  3. ^ Bartlett, John, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature. 17th ed., Little, Brown and Company. November 2002.
  4. ^ Newsweek. Volume 65, Part 1. Newsweek Inc. 1965, p. 173.
  5. ^ Electrical Safety: Portable Tools and Mobile Appliances; Proceedings of a Symposium, International Labour Office, 1969, p. 102
  6. ^ "Detail | Define Detail at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  7. ^ "US increases fiscal-stimulus offer to $1.8 trillion to fight COVID-19: Report". mint.com. Retrieved 2020-10-10.

Sources[edit]

  • Bartlett, John, Bartlett's Familiar Quotations: A Collection of Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs Traced to Their Sources in Ancient and Modern Literature, 17th ed., Little, Brown and Company, November 2002
  • Titelman, Gregory, Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings, Random House Reference, March 5, 1996