In(to) the weeds is a common way of saying there is unnecessary or too much information or detail about a particular subject. Where did this phrase come from?
Deep in/into the weeds, also in deep weeds: is an idiomatic expression which has become very popular in recent years:
(Of a restaurant worker) overwhelmed and falling behind in serving customers: Our waitress was so deep in the weeds that we waited 40 minutes for our burgers.
In trouble; overwhelmed by problems: He knows our marriage is in deep weeds.
Involved in the details: I’m in the weeds of planning my wedding.
According to The word detective:
- The restaurant term Is invoked when the staff is overworked, everything is going wrong, and total chaos is only a burnt fillet of sole away. Back in 2000 there was actually a Molly Ringwald movie about the staff of a restaurant dealing with a bad night called “In the Weeds".
regarding getting overwhelmed:
- My initial suspicion about “into the weeds” was that it had something to do with a golf ball landing in the “rough” (long grass), making it hard to extract without falling behind. I tend to think that golf is indeed the source of this sense of “getting into the weeds” meaning “losing control and being overwhelmed.” Other possible sources that have been suggested include a swimmer becoming tangled in seaweed and a boat having its propeller snarled by weeds in a lake.
and 'into details':
But as Mark Liberman points out, the use of “into the weeds” to mean “delving deep into the details” doesn’t carry the same sense of painful confusion as the restaurant use, and such “weed wandering” is actually the sort of thing true policy wonks enjoy. As he says in his Language Log post:
- “The metaphor here seems to be that when you wander off the beaten path, you can explore arbitrary amounts of not-very-valuable intellectual foliage (“weeds”) without getting closer to your conceptual destination.” I think that image of “wandering off the beaten path to examine interesting details along the way” is the key to this sense of “getting into the weeds.”
Of course, some tasks actually require “getting into the weeds,” dealing with small but important details, such as the minutiae of financial or legislative analysis (“A panel of lawmakers is starting to ‘get into the weeds,’ as one state senator put it, and are hoping to write first drafts of possible new laws by the end of the summer addressing Montana’s wide-open medical marijuana scene,” Missoulian, 6/28/10).
This sense of “getting into the weeds” would thus lie midway between the terror of a bad night as a waiter and the policy wonk’s eager embrace of statistical trends. Sometimes wandering around in the weeds is just all in a day’s work.
I've always heard that the phrase "In the weeds" had it's origins rooted in the prohibition era. The story goes that reserves of alcohol for most speakeasys wasn't stored, for the most part, inside said establishment because in the event of a raid, all of the reserve alcohol would be lost. If there happened to be a vacant lot or field nearby,alcohol was hidden there in sacks and covered with grass or leaves. When the bar got busy and the supply would run low, service would take a hit because no matter who you send to get the stuff you need,they wouldn't bring it back fast enough. When the runner didn't immediately show up with the booze the bartender would investigate and when people would ask where the bartender went,"He's in the weeds" was often the answer even if he was in the john. After prohibition, "in the weeds" became a term for being really busy.
Now I can't say that this is the truth. It's what I was told when I was young in the service industry.
I first heard this idiom from my father (who was a pilot) and other pilots in reference to a landing that went off-course from the landing strip.
In the early days, 'official' landing strips were mowed grass fields - some still are today, especially private fields. If the aircraft veered off the strip (due crosswinds or pilot error or mechanical problems) or went long, it was said "he was in the weeds", which was often meant in the literal sense, not metaphorical.
"In the weeds" is also a phrase used in microprocessor software development. An error in pointer arithmetic could send the machine's Instruction Pointer into the data memory, or the stack, causing the microprocessor to execute nonsense instructions, crashing the system. Debugging would show where the IP was sent "In the weeds".
I deduce that this term comes from slavery in America's southeast, where tidal irrigation was used for rice crops and slaves were employed to de-weed in the spring. It was harrowing and undesirable, so they would run away, to be bribed back with meat and rum...
Rice needed much labor because it required much weeding. The irrigation water that nourished rice also encouraged growth of weeds; by late spring, all manner of opportunistic plants had sprouted in the thick mud of the fields. Rather than face the grinding months of toil with a hoe, ankle- or even knee-deep in muck, slaves tended to abscond, persistently eroding whites' authority over their labor. Josiah Smith, for example, fearing his slaves would run away when the weeds were thickest in the spring of 1774, hoped his overseer's moderate treatment of them, plus supplemental rations of beef and rum, would keep them at their tasks. One foreign observer noted that South Carolinians had a revealing local expression for bad plantation managers: they were always "in the grass," not having enough labor (or enough willing labor) to keep their fields clean of weeds.9
9 Smith to George Austin, Apr. 22, I774, Josiah Smith Letterbook, Southern Historical Collection, Chapel Hill, N. C.; Harry J. Carman, ed., American Hus- bandry (New York, I939), 276.
Tidal Rice Cultivation and the Problem of Slavery in South Carolina and Georgia, 1760-1815 Author(s): Joyce E. Chaplin Source: The William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1 (Jan., 1992), pp. 29-61 Published by: Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
I've actually heard its use as a metaphor during meetings to mean diving into the details. Often it is used as a comparison to the opposite of taking the "30,000-foot view" which is a metaphor for making management decisions by staying out of the weeds.