What does “the devil is in the details” mean?

Explore the meaning and origins of the popular idiom. Learn why paying attention to small details is crucial for success in projects and plans.

Understanding the Idiom

“The devil is in the details” is a widely used idiom that refers to the idea that small mistakes or oversights in the details of a project or plan can cause significant problems.

This idiom is often used to emphasize the importance of paying attention to even the smallest details in a project or plan.

Definition and Usage

The idiom “the devil is in the details” means that small things that are often overlooked can cause significant problems.

This idiom is commonly used to remind people to pay attention to the details of a project or plan.

For example, if someone is planning a party, they might be reminded that the devil is in the details, meaning that they need to pay attention to all the small details to ensure that the party is a success.

Historical Origins

The phrase “the devil is in the details” is a variation of the earlier German proverb “Der liebe Gott steckt im Detail,” which translates to “God is in the detail.” This proverb was popularized by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, who used it to emphasize the importance of attention to detail in his work.

The phrase was later adapted to “the devil is in the details” by the writer Aby Warburg and the novelist Gustave Flaubert.

Modern Interpretations

In modern times, the phrase “the devil is in the details” is often used to emphasize the importance of paying attention to the smallest details in a project or plan.

This idiom is commonly used in business, where small mistakes can have significant consequences.

For example, a company might be reminded that the devil is in the details when preparing a contract, meaning that they need to pay attention to all the small details to ensure that the contract is legally binding.

Examples

  • John was reminded that the devil is in the details, and so he double-checked all the numbers in his report before submitting it.
  • Mary’s boss told her that the devil is in the details, and so she spent extra time proofreading her presentation to ensure there were no mistakes.
  • The contractor was reminded that the devil is in the details, and so he carefully measured all the materials before starting the construction.

Synonyms

  • The details make the difference
  • The devil is in the fine print
  • The small things matter