What Does The Devil Is in the Details Mean?

The Devil is the Details Meaning

Definition: Details are important; problems of difficulties are often in the details.

Sometimes this phrase is written as the devil’s in the details.

Origin of the Devil is in the Details

This expression is a derivation of God is in the details. This earlier version most likely originated in the 1800s and is attributed to German-born architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohebut.

Interestingly, the original phrase God is in the Details had a slightly different connotation than the modern phrase the devil is in the details. The idea was that whatever one does should be done thoroughly and the truth, if it exists, is in the details.

The modern phrase does not speak of truth in this sense. The devil is in the details really only refers to problems or difficulties that result from the unforeseen nature of unexamined details. It refers to a catch hidden in the details rather than the truth in its abstract sense.

The variant form the devil is in the details became popular from 1960 onward.

Examples of the Devil is in the Details

what does the devil is in the detail mean In the example below, two friends are discussing a recent controversy at the local art museum.

Ted: Did you hear about what happened at the art museum?

Rufio: No, what was it?

Ted: Apparently, one of the very famous paintings they had was a forgery!

Rufio: Are you serious? How did they find out about it?

Ted: Well, the painting was almost perfect. It looked the same in every way. However, it turned out that this particular artist used a very specific type of hair in his paint brushes. It came from a specific breed of cat!

Rufio: Huh.

Ted: In the forgery, there were pieces of hair from a horse! The real painter would never have used those.

Rufio: It’s amazing that something so small can make such a big difference.

Ted: I guess that’s why they say that the devil is in the details.

meaning of devil is in the details This dialogue shows two friends talking together about an embarrassing situation while in a library.

Zayna: I’m so embarrassed!

Ben: Why? What happened?

Zayna: Well, this library is so big. I’ve gotten lost in here a few times.

Ben: So did you get lost again?

Zayna: Not exactly. I asked for directions to the bathroom from one of the librarians, and she gave me fantastic directions. They were so detailed, and I did a great job remembering them. They worked perfectly, and once I saw the bathroom I figured it was okay to forget the rest of the directions.

Ben: Sounds fine to me. What was the problem?

Zayna: I accidentally walked into the men’s room. I wasn’t even thinking about which bathroom it was, since I was so proud I followed the majority of the directions correctly. I should have paid closer attention. The devil is in the details, after all.

More Examples

The excerpt below is from an article about helping single parents own homes.

  • “There’s a phrase there’s a devil in the details but Oprah changes it and says the love is in the details. That was it,” said Renee Tulloch, who received her house in 2002. –USA Today

This excerpt is about a biostatician who helped advance medical research.

Breslow took on nettlesome, devil-in-the-details problems that lurked in the weeds of large data sets.

His focus was to tease cause from correlation. Did factory dust cause workers’ cancer? Or was it just that they smoked? Did fewer women get cervical cancer because their pap smears worked? Or was it just that those who were tested had healthier habits? –LA Times

Summary

The phrase the devil is in the details means that even minute details can have a big, often negative, impact.