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Asking for an idiom according to literal translation

I think I came up with a new phrase, similar to the devil in details. Appreciate if you find it applicable and mildly amusing.

Missing the trees for the forest

It describes the situation where you have a grand scheme but haven't thought through or screw up on implementation details. Somewhat like designing a beautiful, impressive, useful (and other such adjectives) architecture of a building but using bad quality bricks and misaligning them when laying. The completed structure looks impressive but does not falls apart when used.

Are there any other phrases that describe this situation?

PS: This is not missing the forest for the trees, which is a five hundred year old phrase that his phrase twists around for the reverse meaning.

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    115k hits on Google. 7 cites in COCA, 1 in BNC. You have not invented anything new.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 17, 2013 at 20:04
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    @Variable: To one hit? Here are all 115000 of them. And here's a COCA query.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 17, 2013 at 20:23
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    @Variable: do you see it? I have copypasted your exact phrase and enclosed it in quotes.
    – RegDwigнt
    Jan 17, 2013 at 20:28
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    All this hoo-ha over whether or not OP's example is truly original and/or amusing is kinda forgetting about the fact that OP is in fact asking for an alternative expression. The devil's in the detail, but to my mind this question is a duplicate of that one. Jan 17, 2013 at 22:51
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    While the OP actually used "the devil's in the details" in their question, I actually think that their "invented" expression, "miss the trees for the forest" feels more like you don't want to overlook the details for the big picture which I would interpret as a more positive statement than "the devil's in the details". That's just my perspective, given the OP's question. Jan 17, 2013 at 23:25

1 Answer 1


You ask, “Are there any other phrases that describe this situation?”. It appears that there are; examples follow.

In an article called Missing the trees for the forest, N. Petrossi gives an alternate wording: “... they have focused on all of Orange County’s home market stats and failed to see that it’s the “Trees,” the individual cities with their individual areas that are especially important.”

In another article called Missing the trees for the forest, Dorsey Wright MM rephrases it as “Even if the economy is crummy and returns from the market are not enticing, there may be plenty of opportunity.”

In another article called Missing the trees for the forest, Yvain says “when people consider an idea in isolation, they tend to make good decisions. When they consider an idea a symbol of a vast overarching narrative, they tend to make very bad decisions.”

A more complete analysis appears in another article called “Missing the trees for the forest: a construal level account of the illusion of explanatory depth”. The authors write:

An illusion of explanatory depth (IOED) occurs when people believe they understand a concept more deeply than they actually do. To date, IOEDs have been identified only in mechanical and natural domains, occluding why they occur and suggesting that their implications are quite limited. Six studies illustrated that IOEDs occur because people adopt an inappropriately abstract construal style when they assess how well they understand concrete concepts. ...

Following that reference, the phrase “illusion of explanatory depth” or the acronym IOED seem like reasonable alternative wordings of “Missing the trees for the forest”.

  • At lease a couple of these interpret this to be taking about starting with a individual and ignoring the big picture. I seem to think it more effectively means concentrating on big picture while missing out on details. Perhaps I have it backwards :) Jan 17, 2013 at 20:31
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    @MiserableVariable, all of the linked articles are about overlooking smaller elements because of concentrating on (or being blinded by) the big picture. However, labeling the first three quotations as alternative wordings of “Missing the trees for the forest” is facetious (ie an attempt at humor). Jan 17, 2013 at 21:05

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