Posted by Word Camel on December 28, 2002
In Reply to: Forest posted by ESC on December 27, 2002
: : Define: Sometimes the forest gets in the way of the trees.
: From the archives:
: 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."
: To access further discussion, do an archives search under "forest."
The usual meaning is that excessive focus on the parts or details of a thing can prevent one from appreciating the whole.