God in the deatils (1960)

Wilson Gray wilson.gray at RCN.COM
Wed Jan 26 21:21:20 UTC 2005

On Jan 26, 2005, at 12:40 PM, Mark A. Mandel wrote:

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       "Mark A. Mandel" <mamandel at LDC.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: God in the deatils (1960)
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> --------
> 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
> eliminated.

Interesting! I've always assumed that this saying meant only that a
person purporting to be of pure European(-American) ancestry was
suspected of hiding African(-American) ancestry.

-Wilson Gray

> 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
> fans.
> mark by hand

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