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the proverbial forest for the trees

Discussion in 'English Only' started by elinor, Oct 10, 2005.

  1. elinor Senior Member

    Taiwan
    Mandarin
    Would you explain the difference between "the proverbial forest for the trees" and "the proverbial tree in the forest?"

    Thank you.
     
  2. mylam Senior Member

    Texas
    United States English
    More context please... :)
     
  3. Ginia New Member

    Arizona, U.S.
    United States-English
    These are both philosophical sayings. The proverbial forest for the trees refers to "not seeing the forest for the trees" which means something like "he's seeing the details but not the overall picture" or, "he has all the facts but can't put them together so they mean something". The proverbial tree in the forest probably refers to "if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?" Just a philosophical question that doesn't necessarily have a provable answer.

    Ginia
     
  4. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    The first phrase most likely has something to do with the "proverbial" saying, "You can't see the forest for the trees." Meaning you're focusing on details too much and can't see the "big picture."

    I'd guess that the second one is from the sophomoric philosophical conundrum, "If a tree falls in the forest and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?" Meaning do things have a meaning in and of themselves, or is our world a postmodernist phenomenological construct whose meanings are all-too-imperfect attempts to synthesize sensory data in reference to arbitrary modes of significance?

    Or, to "synthesize" both phrases in a meaningful way, "You can't see the forest because all the heaped-up trees that fell down when there was nobody around to hear them are blocking the view."
    .
     
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    I agree with the explanations given above by Ginia and foxfirebrand (the latter clearly being the one with detailed specialist knowledge:p ).

    What struck me most forcibly is that over there (ie among AE-speakers) the idiom is "can't see the forest for the trees".

    Over here, among BE-speakers, it is "can't see the wood for the trees". I should make it clear that wood, in this context, means:
    OED
     
  6. elinor Senior Member

    Taiwan
    Mandarin
    Dear teachers, thank you all. I've got it.
     
  7. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    What a relief! And here all these years I'd thought Malcolm and his cohort were attacking Dunsinane with their goddamn golf clubs! That final duke-out between MacBeth and young MacDuff seems infinitely less silly now. Would that the Bard had had an incorruptible tongue at his disposal, to compose his immarmoreal lines withal!

    As distinct from decomposing things marmoreal, blue or otherwise, as dealt with on this forum hereinelsewhere. (Not to be confused with "here in Elsinore"-- that was the other play.)
    .
     
  8. panjandrum

    panjandrum PongoMod

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    ~~~Chuckle~~~

    I had a notion that it might be important to be clear about wood.
    So, a wood, meaning a collection of trees growing more or less thickly together, is not commonly used in AE?

    Rather a shame if true, a walk in the woods sounds a lot more romantic than a fumble in the forest;)
     
  9. GenJen54

    GenJen54 Senior Member

    Downright Pleasant, USA
    USA - English
    We do say "woods," but not the singular "wood."

    In my experience, one uses "woods" to describe a dense cluster of trees over a rather small geographical area. While walking in the woods, I would encounter a lesser variety of woodland denizens than I would if taking same walk in a "forest."

    For example, I could find a suitable "woods" in the middle of a large city park. In the woods, you might enjoy the peculiarities of more "urban" wildlife, such as squirrels, a few noted bird species, perhaps a small red fox or two (vulpes vulpes), a few smaller creatures from the reptilian family, but that is about it.

    To experience a forest, however, I would have to travel far away from any large metropolitan area, where the wooded areas are vast. The forest has a much more dense and diverse population of wildlife.
     
  10. foxfirebrand

    foxfirebrand Senior Member

    The Northern Rockies
    Southern AE greatly modified by a 1st-generation Scottish-American mother, and growing up abroad.
    Au contraire, mon frère. Out here where it's the horizon we can't see for the trees, the word "forest" is a little on the literary side. I know GenJen can speak with authority on what the woods look like from her neck of them, but when I sit down at the old watering hole with my buddies who work in the woods-- I wouldn't exactly say:

    "Hey guys. I just cleaned my Browning and it doesn't jam any more. Who wants to go out in the forest and knock down some grouse?"

    Come to think of it, I wouldn't say "out in the woods" either. Maybe it's just a topographically-determined localism, but the exactly correct phrase is "up in the woods."

    "Been up firewoodin, huh?"
    "Nah, that's just some shit I got a couple days ago and I'm too lazy to offload it. I did take the Deer Creek road into town, though, and did a little scouting. Saw some tracks, but they looked rained on. Old news."
    "Yeah, I was up in the woods all morning and didn't see so much as a pile of shit, not even a dry one."
    .
     

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