phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

Phrases, Sayings and Idioms Home > Discussion Forum

Re: Wood, forest

Posted by Shae on June 18, 2003

In Reply to: Re: Wood, forest posted by Bob on June 18, 2003

: : : : : : : :
: : : : : : : : I saw in your archives a message about Can't see the forest for the trees. I have often heard it said in reverse. Can't see the trees for the forest. Which is right? And what does is the real meaning of it? Anyone know? I need an answer fast.
: : : : : : : : yrdbird2@yahoo.com

: : : : : : : I'm fairly sure it's 'can't see the forest for the trees.' A person can't see the forest (overall picture) because he/she concentrates too much on the details (trees).

: : : : : : I agree with Shae. I'm certain that the original phrase was "you can't see the forest for the trees". However, I'm also pretty sure that the reversed phrase has been in usage for some time too, used to describe a situation where for example someone is so overawed by the size of a problem that he/she can't work out how to start solving it.

: : : : : : I found the following paragraph on the web in an article dealing with personality types. It neatly demonstrates the difference between the two phrases.

: : : : : : "A person who is a sensing type may not be able to see the forest for the trees while an intuitive person may not see the trees for the forest. Sensors see the actuality and intuitives the see the possibilities. Sensing and intuition provide information about the world but very different sorts of information. People operating from these two functions see the world in very different ways."

: : : : : I've never heard 'forest' used in this phrase - it was always 'wood'. Is this just me, or a true UK version?

: : : : 'Woods' is used here in Ireland too, although 'forest' is heard occasionally.

: : : "Forest" is U.S. for Brit. "wood" in the sense of a large piece of land covered with a natural growth of trees. "Wood" in the U.S. means what the hard parts of trees are made of.

: : I seem to recall that a half century ago rural people in the southeast US people used "woods" more frequently than "forest" when talking about a wooded area i.e. trees and underbrush. I don't recall "wood" being used for "forest". (This is getting far from the subject line but today in the western US large areas of desert with no trees may be designated as "national forest".)

: In the U.S., we will use "woods" and "forest" (the latter is perceived larger), but "wood" is very rare. As in Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, the word seems very British.

In medieval legal terminology, a 'forest' was land preserved by the sovereign or local lord for hunting purposes. It contained wooded areas where deer and boar could thrive, but it also had areas cleared of trees where flushed game could be hunted with little danger of the mounted hunters getting their heads bashed by inconveniently low-slung branches.

Not many know that!