Posted by Paul Guthrie on October 14, 2001
In Reply to: Re: Forest posted by ESC on October 14, 2001
: : Here seems to be one that is hard to find the origin of:
: : can't see the forest for the trees
: : Tom
: UNABLE TO SEE THE WOODS FOR THE TREES - From "Heavens to Betsy" by Charles Earle Funk (Harper & Row, New York, 1955): "Too beset by petty things to appreciate the greatness or grandeur; too wrapped up in details to gain a view of the whole. In America we are likely to use the plural, 'woods,' or possibly to substitute 'forest,' but 'wood' is the old form and is preferable. Yes, the saying is at least five hundred years old, and probably a century or two could be added to that, for it must have been long been in use to have been recorded in 1546 in John Heywood's 'A dialogue Conteynyng the Nomber in Effect of all the Prouerbes in the Englishe Tongue.' He wrote 'Plentie is no deinte, ye see not your owne ease. I see, ye can not see the wood for trees.' And a few years later, in 1583, Brian Melbancke, in 'Philotimus: the Warre Betwixt Nature and Fortune,' wrote: 'Thou canst not or wilt not see wood for trees.' The saying has cropped up repeatedly from then to the present, becoming, in fact, more frequent with the passing years."
A couple of questions for the knowledgeable!
The phrase often uses the singular 'wood' instead of 'woods' or 'forest'. Although the singular 'wood' can mean forest, it can also mean the substance of trees. Does anyone know for sure whether 'wood' in the early references quoted above are referring to wood (a forest) as opposed to wood (the substance of trees)? Is there any sense of the phrase to mean that seeing trees one is unable or unwilling to see that they are (composed of) wood?
Does anyone know what 'Plentie is no deinte, ye see not your owne ease' means? (As in the John Heywood reference above.)