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 "God 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" (literally "the good God is in the detail") is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880).[1]

The expression "the devil is in the details" is found in a 1963 history of post-war European integration.[3] It is later attested in 1965.[4] In 1969, it is referred to as an existing proverb.[5] Bartlett's Familiar Quotations lists the saying's author as anonymous.[6] An editorial in the 1989 New York Times reflects on the apparent interchangeability of God and the Devil in the phrase, citing various examples in print at the time; as well as the difficulty of determining which came first and how long either one has been in use.[7]

In German print, the equivalent expression of "God is in the details", "Gott steckt im Detail", appears in 1934. The equivalent expression of "The devil is in the details", "Der Teufel steckt im Detail", appears in 1951, and overtakes "Gott" in 1965.[8]

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.[9] When referring to the finer points of legislation, the US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi observed, "The devil and the angels are in the details."[10]

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. ^ Mayne, Richard (1963). The Community of Europe. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 92. [T]he member states' Foreign Ministers met in Paris on July 23-25, 1952: on the principle that 'the devil is in the details', what should have been a merely formal occasion developed into a debate about the Community's official languages and the site of its headquarters
  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. ^ 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.
  7. ^ On Language; Who's in Those Details? by William Safire
  8. ^ https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Der+Teufel+steckt+im+Detail%2CGott+steckt+im+Detail&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=31&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2CDer%20Teufel%20steckt%20im%20Detail%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2CGott%20steckt%20im%20Detail%3B%2Cc0 Google Books Ngram Viewer
  9. ^ "Detail | Define Detail at Dictionary.com". Dictionary.reference.com. Retrieved 2012-07-15.
  10. ^ "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