I translated a sentence into English:

When the details are ignored, the whole problem will be ignored unintentionally

Seems like a logical sentence that says when you don't consider all details while solving a problem, it'll affect the result and the whole problem. I'd like to know if there's an idiomatic expression meaning the same.

  • To me, it isn't an understandable sentence. Can you give some context of how your sentence is used? Maybe "you can't see the forest for the trees"? – JLG Mar 13 '12 at 13:03
  • @JLG: I cannot provide more context than I already did, as I said it's talking about a situation where you're told not to interfere in minor issues and you're saying that details are important or something like that. Could you elaborate what the idiom you said means? – Gigili Mar 13 '12 at 13:15
  • @Gigili: “You can’t see the forest for the trees” means that details (trees) can prevent you from seeing the whole (forest) of something. “For” in that idiom means “because of”, as in “He left without her, and for that, she hated him”. – Jon Purdy Mar 13 '12 at 13:38
  • It's not exactly an idiom, but you could certainly say, for example "today's complacency is tomorrow's headache". – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 15:24

It's not clear to me exactly what OP wants to convey. If she's trying to point out that solving some particular problem is actually much harder than might be thought by others who don't understand exactly what will be involved, @Matt's "The devil's in the detail" is probably appropriate (it's often pluralised now, but I've always known it in the singular).

If on the other hand, OP is trying to convey that failure to conscientiously attend to all details will result in an inadequate solution, I suggest the proverb

If a job's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

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  • I explained it twice, something is wrong that it's still unclear to you. – Gigili Mar 13 '12 at 15:39
  • @Gigili: Either of my two interpretations are consistent with your "explanation". Something is wrong if you cannot see the difference between the nature of the situation, and what you wish to say about it. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 15:44
  • Apologies for failing to realise the gender issue. I've let your edit go through because of that, but to be honest I don't think you're really justified in changing "not completely clear" to just "not clear". The reason for that extra word was that the distinction I'm making is quite a fine one. Your edit simply seems designed to subtly weaken the point I'm making, so you can more easily disagree with me. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 15:49
  • None of your "interpretation"s seems suitable to me because it's talking about a situation where you're told not to interfere in minor issues and you're saying that details are important and we cannot ignore them. There's something wrong obviously. – Gigili Mar 13 '12 at 15:51
  • You're right, I edited that part because the edit must be more than 6 characters. I get offended when someone addresses me as "he". – Gigili Mar 13 '12 at 15:52

The best saying I can think of is

The devil's in the details

Which mean that the smallest parts of a problem are the most challenging.

The opposite of what you want, I think, is

Look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves

Meaning, if you take care of the little things the big things will fall into place.

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  • Thank you for your answer Matt, does it mean "details are important ? – Gigili Mar 13 '12 at 13:16
  • Yes, both sayings mean that. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 13 '12 at 13:17
  • I'm not sure either saying exactly fits OP's context. The first one applies when you're pointing out that resolving some superficially straightforward problem will actually be quite tricky when you get down to specifics. The second is only normally used in relation to gradually accumulating savings, not to identifying small problems today which if left unaddressed will result in big problems at some later date. Which is what I think OP is getting at. – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 15:18
  • @FumbleFingers As I say about the second, it implies the opposite of what Gigili wants. I disagree that it only applies to savings. I certainly use it with a more broad meaning. – Matt E. Эллен Mar 13 '12 at 15:20
  • Well, I guess it's a transparent extension of meaning, so it would always be understood in context. I must admit though, if the boss were castigating me for spending too much time focussing on minor details, and I said that to him, I'd fully expect the rejoinder "Penny wise, pound foolish!" – FumbleFingers Mar 13 '12 at 15:42

Another similar idiom that's used is "the tip of the iceberg." Here's an example:

Frank: "We only had two users who complained."

Ernest: "Yes, but that's just the tip of the iceberg."

The idea, of course, is that we only see a little bit of the iceberg above the water, but that's only a small indicator of a much more massive, unseen, dangerous chunk of ice below the surface. In the dialog above, Ernest is telling Frank that, even though only two users have formally complained, there are likely dozens more who are very unhappy.

The idiom could also be used like this:

Seth: "I'm hearing a funny noise in my car. I think it's time for some new tires."

Beth: "That's probably just the tip of the iceberg!"

In this case, Beth is agreeing that Seth may need new tires, but is also guessing that the mechanic will find plenty else that needs fixing, too. She might be especially prone to say this if Seth's car is old and falling apart.

As I said, it's similar. Maybe not exact, but along the same lines.

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