God in the deatils (1960)

Mark A. Mandel mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU
Wed Jan 26 17:40:13 UTC 2005

John Baker says:

        I think the meaning of the two phrases is pretty close, though not
identical.  "God is in the details" is typically applied in artistic
contexts (particularly in architecture) and means that great art is achieved
through attention to detail.  "The devil is in the details" means that close
attention to detail is required to find problems with a complex proposal or
arrangement.  I believe that the latter phrase achieved broad popularization
in the 1980s in political contexts, particularly with respect to arms
control treaties and tax legislation, in both of which areas very close
attention indeed to the details is required to find the devil.


I hadn't heard the God version enough to have figured out a supposed meaning
for it. I understood the devil version much as you did. I'd've defined it
thus: There can be / are likely to be errors or gotchas down at fine levels
of detail, where you won't notice them until it's too late unless you
examine and predict interactions and so on very carefully.

I associated that "devil" with the (mega-unPC) proverbial "n*gger in the
woodpile", the hidden problem that will cause trouble if not sought out and

I like the hominess of the troublemaker hiding amidst the firewood out back,
and I have tried to keep that image in use as "the goblin in the woodpile".
It helps, I guess, that my family and many of my friends are sf/fantasy

mark by hand

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