The Devil is in the detail  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The idiom "the devil is in the detail" refers to a catch or mysterious element hidden in the details.

Origin

The idiom "the devil is in the detail" derives from the earlier phrase, "God is in the detail;" expressing the idea that whatever one does should be done thoroughly; i.e. details are important. This original idiom has been attributed to a number of different individuals, most notably to German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) by The New York Times in Mies' 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.M. Gombrich, is likewise uncertain if it originated with Warburg. An earlier form "Le bon Dieu est dans le détail" (the good God is in the detail) is generally attributed to Gustave Flaubert (1821–1880). Bartlett's Familiar Quotations lists the saying's author as anonymous. Google Ngram Viewer reveals that the phrase "the devil is in the details" does not appear in print before ca. 1975.

Variants

Due to common use, the phrase itself has a number of forms: (The / A) Devil (is) in the Detail(s). The original expression of "God is in the detail" most likely had the expression ending with "detail" (without an s), colloquial usage often ends the idiom as "details"; detail, without an s, can be used as both a singular and collective noun.

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

References

  • 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




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The Devil is in the detail" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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