Glossary Home Proverbs

The devil is in the details

“The devil is in the details” is an English proverb that’s used to remind someone to pay attention to the details. 

There’s something in the work they’re trying to complete that they might miss. That one crucial thing could mean the end of all their efforts. The phrase may have originated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-born architect, but there are also a few other possible sources of the proverb. “The devil is in the details” is quite popular and can be heard within many different situations. 

The devil is in the details meaning


Meaning 

The phrase “the devil is in the details” is a common proverb that’s used when someone wants to emphasize how important it is to pay attention to the details.

If you don’t, you’re going to miss something crucial. The phrase is easily used in different kinds of conversations, but it does require that everyone understands what it means. Without context, this kind of proverb, like most idioms, is hard to comprehend. It might make a conversation far more confusing than it would be otherwise. 

This proverb is often delivered as a piece of advice. For example, using it to tell someone that they really need to start paying more attention to what they’re doing. 

The image of the devil is used as a symbol for the thing that one might miss, a mystery, fact, piece of crucial information, or other within a task they’re trying to complete. It is also related to the phrase, “God is in the details.” It’s also possible to see iterations of the phrase, including “Truth is in the details.” 

Origins 

The proverb “the devil is in the details” is attributed to Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-born architect. In his 1969 obituary, The New York Times claimed he was the first person to use the phrase. But, there are several other possible origins, including Aby Warburg, an art historian, and Gustave Flaubert, the famous author of Madame Bovary. 

As is the case with most of these phrases, it’s hard to pin down exactly where they came from or who first used them. Often, they evolve over time, starting out one way and becoming solidified in contemporary language differently. 

When to Use “The devil is in the details” 

It’s possible to use “the devil is in the details” in a wide variety of situations and among different groups of people. But, it should be noted from the start that this proverb is likely not going to be suited for more formal conversations. For example, while delivering a presentation to one’s boss or while writing a grant proposal. It’s best used in colloquial conversations in which one doesn’t need to worry about how professional they’re sounding. 

This phrase is an interesting way to embellish one’s language while conveying a sentiment that most people are going to be familiar with. One might use it to describe why they’re taking so long to finish a project. For example, saying, “I know this is taking a long time, but the devil is in the details.” This suggests that if they don’t take their time and pay attention to every detail, then they’re going to miss something incredibly important, and perhaps the entire project is going to fail.

Example Sentences 

  • You have to be careful. The devil is in the details. 
  • If you’re not careful you’ll miss the devil in the details. 
  • That’s why we always take our time while working. The devil is in the details. 
  • Since I always try to remember that the devil is in the details, I’m fairly successful. 
  • If you want to be a good employee you have to remember that the devil is in the details. 


Why Do Writers Use “The devil is in the details?”

Writers use “the devil is in the details” in the same way and for the same reasons that it’s used in everyday conversations. By utilizing an idiom or proverb within a dialogue between two characters, the author is ensuring that the reader can connect to what they’re saying. If a character uses the same words that a reader does and employs the same phrases, then it’s more likely that a connection will form between the two. 

It’s also possible to use very specific idioms or proverbs from one region or another. This will ensure that readers understand a character comes from one part of a country or one part of the world.

All that being said, it’s also important to monitor how these phrases are used. If there are too many within a single literary work reader might have a different experience. They might find the dialogue interesting and cliché

FAQs 

Why do people use “the devil is in the details?” 

People use “the devil is in the details” as a way of emphasizing how important it is to focus on the details. If you don’t, you’re liable to miss something quite important. 

Is it okay to use “the devil is in the details?” 

It’s okay to use this phrase in most situations. But, it isn’t always going to come across as professional. It’s better to use it among friends and family members rather than during an important presentation or in a paper.

Where did “the devil is in the details” come from?

This proverb may have originated with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, a German-born architect, or with several other sources from the late1800s and early 1900s. As is usually the case, it’s unclear exactly who used it first. 


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