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Is there an idiom for explaining something in extreme detail? I know there is an idiom for getting rid of something "root and branch", but based on the examples I've seen, this cannot be used in this kind of context, or can it?

I am looking for a phrase of some sort, somewhat pejorative but a funny one – an idiom, colloquialism or something multi-word. In my language we have a saying that someone explains something and "includes the root" or "explains every pond and pool", e.g. when someone asks the shortest way from point A to point B, and instead of telling which one it is, you start describing every rock and tree and bush on the way, which really is not at all informative. Pretty much an exact opposite to "cutting to the chase".

18 Answers 18

26

In my shop we call this getting too deep into the weeds, which is the opposite of taking the thirty-thousand-foot view.

I'm afraid business-communications outfits like mine are sorta heirs to the Madison Avenue tradition that created gems like run it up the flagpole and see who salutes.

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    also just plain "getting into the weeds" – xdhmoore Sep 4 '17 at 21:58
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    @xdhmoore Well, sometimes you want to get into the weeds: one of our major clients is a big-time agribiz corp. :) – StoneyB Sep 4 '17 at 23:14
40

Labor the point

Explain or discuss something at excessive or unnecessary length.

Also known as belaboring the point.

to explain or insist on excessively. to keep explaining or insisting on to excess

example usage:

Her habit of belaboring the obvious makes her a very boring speaker.

Note US/UK variation in spelling of labor/labour.

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    This should be the accepted answer. Not sure why colloquialisms or any phrase that is limited in it's meaning to a small region or even a group of people has any place being offered as the answer to this question.EDIT: Just noticed that the OP did ask for colloquialisms, so I suppose anything goes. – Rapscallion Sep 4 '17 at 11:06
26

If someone is going into too much detail one phrase is

Can't see the wood for the trees.

Which means obscuring the big picture with irrelevant detail.

In this example "wood" means "forest" and not "plank", and without this explanation the example phrase would mean the opposite!


On a different tack, repeating too much detail can be said to be

Explaining ad nauseam.

Which is a Latin term (in modern use) for an argument or discussion that has continued 'to the point of nausea'.

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    +1 for “ad nauseam”.   BTW, in USA I'm more accustomed to “Can’t see the forest for the trees.” — although I’m not sure that’s such a good answer; the question is not necessarily about explaining the details at the cost of presenting big picture. – Scott Sep 3 '17 at 2:50
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    @Weather Vane +1 for ad nauseam from me too. Ad infinitum (MW) could also apply. – NMI Sep 3 '17 at 22:11
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    I don't think this describes someone explaining in too much detail. Not seeing the wood for the trees is describing someone who may be confused or cannot understand a situation, possibly because they have too much information and cannot find the relevant parts or see how they all fit together (ref: dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/…). – Craig Sep 4 '17 at 0:03
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    "Can't see the word for the trees" is an individual's inability to look at the bigger picture, instead focusing on many minor (and implicitly inconsequential) details. At least that's my understanding of the phrase. – Rapscallion Sep 4 '17 at 11:11
17

Overexplaining sounds like a good single-word option here. It is fairly intuitive in its meaning and is very likely to be understood by the other party even without prior knowledge of the word.

I could not find any definition or confirmation in a conventional dictionary, but an example from this online dictionary suggests your intended usage:

overexplain in British

[ˌəʊvərɪkˈspleɪn]

verb

to explain in too much detail

Wiktionary suggests a similar definition (please note that, being an open wiki, Wiktionary's information is not guaranteed to be 100% accurate, is not regarded an authoritative source and may contain accidental or deliberate errors):

Etymology

over- +‎ explain

Verb

overexplain

(third-person singular simple present overexplains, present participle overexplaining, simple past and past participle overexplained)

(transitive) To explain at unnecessary length or in too much detail.

11

"Going twice around the barn to get to the house" is common in Ohio where I grew up.

  • Welcome to SE EL&U. Please provide some sort of link supporting your answer otherwise it is likely to be removed. See How to answer in the Help. – David Sep 3 '17 at 9:51
  • @David How could a link make this answer any more clear? From your link: "Any answer that gets the asker going in the right direction is helpful", "Brevity is acceptable", and "Links to external resources are encouraged" (not required)... – Brad Werth Sep 5 '17 at 4:28
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    One might argue that this is the only upvoted answer that fulfills the qualification of "phrase of some sort, somewhat pejorative but a funny one" from the question. – Brad Werth Sep 5 '17 at 4:30
  • @BradWerth — You are perhaps not aware that users with a certain "reputation" (=score) are asked to help administer the site by various review tasks. These include looking at first questions and answers from new users, where one is asked to "Help them learn to use the site by reviewing their post". I have no interest in this question or answer, but I do know that answers this short generally get flagged automatically as potentially low quality, and that most reviewers regard supporting info higher than clarity. Your remarks, though no doubt well meant, will not help a new user of SE EL&U. – David Sep 5 '17 at 10:34
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    Let me expand on my Welcome message, which was boilerplate I use for new users. Many reviewers ask for "long answers" in their boilerplate, but I do not do this. I feel it more important to ask "How does the poster or other readers know that you are right?" Now in this case you may find it difficult or unnecessary to corroborate a remininscence from your childhood, but an internet search would be worthwhile. This might tell you whether your phrase is restricted to Ohio, or is used more widely in the Midwest, for example, and hence how familiar and useful the phrase may be. – David Sep 5 '17 at 10:40
8

Another possibility for a single-word expression of this is pedantic (describes the person or the explanation), perhaps preceded by unnecessarily or excessively or etc.

"Given the level of the class, the professor's lectures were often unnecessarily pedantic."

pedantry refers to the practice of being pedantic. "The class sessions were filled with pedantry." A pedant is someone who often speaks or writes this way.

4

This is sometimes described as getting "bogged down" in the details.

"Bog" is a synonym for "swamp", suggesting that someone is getting stuck, as if they are wading in a swamp, instead of making progress.

3

Perhaps explicate would convey the meaning you want.

From Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary:

explicate something - (formal) to explain an idea or a work of literature in a lot of detail

3

The idiom that always comes to mind for me in this situation is the following:

"I asked you what time it is, but you told me how to build a clock."

2

"Over-egging the pudding"

Perhaps most relevant to being overly dramatic, but conveys the meaning of providing more substance than is actually required, for the context.

Or

"Laying it on a bit thick"

Or

"Teaching one's grandmother how to suck eggs"

Needlessly explaining to an audience something they are well aware of. Needless, because you ought to realize their awareness.

Or

"Preaching to the choir"

Trying to convince someone of something they are clearly already signed up to the concept of: The choir would be at the front of the church and keen enough on the whole business to occupy that privileged position.

(I'm British by the way, so maybe these are British idioms. I'll stop now in case I start explaining too thoroughly :-)

  • I'd use all of those, plus these (slight) variations: "preaching to the converted"; "over-egging the cake"... oh, and a vulgar one, "rip the arse out of it" (to take anything far too far, including an explanation). – ArchContrarian Sep 4 '17 at 17:06
  • @ArchContrarian I'm curious. Is that colourful vulgarism British, Australian, from New Zeland, or from elsewhere? (It's vaguely familiar to this Aussie but it's not in common use, at least not in my broad-minded circles.) – NMI Sep 6 '17 at 12:41
  • @NMI ... I'm not sure where it originates. I'm Scottish, and it's considered very common (in both senses) here. – ArchContrarian Sep 6 '17 at 16:26
  • ... Oh and that reminds me of another very vivid (and also vulgar) expression for the perfectionistic overdoing of things, that I've heard only once: "...combing the hairs on your own arse". – ArchContrarian Sep 6 '17 at 16:32
  • @ArchContrarian Ha ha! I got a belly laugh out of "...combing the hairs on your own arse"! I can just imagine "rip the arse out of it" in a Scots accent. I'm fond of British crime dramas and love the Scottish ones but need subtitles to understand the likes of McTaggart. Thanks for your responses. – NMI Sep 6 '17 at 23:23
1

You can say one went around the world and back in their explanation.

You can also say they covered every nook, cranny, and then some

Or they simply went off.

Some of these need context though.

1

I may add splitting hairs (definition), but that person might also be said to provide circumvoluted explanations (see circumvolute).

  • The usual phrase is "splitting hairs", not "hair" or "a hair". – Peter Cordes Sep 5 '17 at 1:18
0

"Every jot and tittle" and equivalently "Dotting the i's and crossing the t's" are idioms for extreme attention to detail. The former is accredited to Jesus himself (Matthew 5:18).

The question was about extremely detailed, not excessive explanations.

  • For amusement, or to see if my listener is listening, I'll often say "dotting every T and crossing every I" – Jamie Hanrahan Dec 19 '18 at 19:01
0

Some additional suggestions:

beating around the bush - when someone keeps talking and won't get to the point

beating it to death - when someone keeps talking and won't get off a topic

the nitty-gritty - exhaustive detail on a topic, not necessarily a negative connotation

all the gory details - same as above

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    flogging a dead horse does not mean that at all; it means to pursue a goal that is never going to work no matter how hard you try – Bohemian Sep 4 '17 at 17:24
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    Changed the answer as per Bohemian's comment. Thanks for the correction! – filistinist Sep 4 '17 at 21:34
0

If someone is in the middle of an overly long explanation, you could interrupt and say "I don't need to know how the sausage is made." That might be closer to what you want.

0

An explanation that is much longer or more detailed than necessary can be called 'long-winded':

e.g. 'He launched into a long-winded explanation of the history of locomotive engines'

0

S/he blinded me with science ...

In response to Sven's comment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnGVxfKXu94

I love Thomas Dolby's song, but it's not true to the meaning of the the phrase (and the phrase is not exactly what the original question was asking for).

  • I've only heard this expression in connection with Thomas Dolby's song of the same name. Can you provide information about it as an idiom? – Sven Yargs May 5 '18 at 7:42
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    Apologies for taking so long to respond. If you have two minutes: youtube.com/watch?v=lnGVxfKXu94 . Otherwise, from dict.leo.org/forum/… 'The song's chorus, "She blinded me with science," plays upon the colloquial British expression "to blind [someone] with science," meaning to deliberately confuse someone by giving the impression of highly complex knowledge ... In the song, however, the phrase is interpreted as a straightforward reference to the natural sciences.' – user184411 Jun 2 '18 at 3:24
  • I think this answer got downvoted by someone who didn't understand my answer. Thomas Dolby's song is a distraction; my answer is relevant and correct, although possibly not exactly what the OP was looking for. – user184411 Dec 16 '18 at 22:30
  • I appreciate your efforts to present corroboration for your original answer. +1 – Sven Yargs Dec 16 '18 at 23:57
  • @Sven Yargs: Thanks for your comment and downvote reversal. And I'll clarify my earlier quote: to 'blind someone with science' is to try to give the impression of competence and expertise, not 'to deliberately confuse'. The confusion is a side effect, not deliberate. – user184411 Dec 18 '18 at 0:32
-6

"mansplaining" is a classic, though it only applies to half the population doing it, and is obviously pejorative.

See video of Silicon Valley scene featuring mansplaining.

If it's not pejorative, it could simply be called a thorough explanation. For an idiom, it could be "dotting the i's and crossing the t's."

If it's not necessarily performed by a man, but meant in a pejorative sense, it could be over-explaining, pedantic, or "whipping a dead horse."

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    Mansplaining is a highly controversial word and does not convey the full meaning, not even for that half of the population. – htmlcoderexe Sep 2 '17 at 22:37
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    Controversy aside, it doesn't convey the OP's meaning at all. – Kevin Krumwiede Sep 3 '17 at 7:01
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    "Mansplaining" / "Femsplaining" / "Cissplaining" / "Transplaining" and similar variants do not convey 'over-explanation'. The (controversial / pejorative / invidious) meaning and intent behind their use is one of "you're only contradicting / explaining this further because you are a man / female / cis / trans / etc and you think a female / man / trans / cis respectively should always be wrong / too dumb to 'get it'". Interestingly, as such, as a form of argument it is notably a form of the formal fallacy of "Bulverism". – Tasos Papastylianou Sep 3 '17 at 20:51

protected by ab2 ReinstateMonicaNow Sep 4 '17 at 22:05

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